By Clara Ngwira, contributor:
Have you ever thought about how obsolete electrical and electronic equipment are discarded in your neighbourhood?
Oftentimes, people dispose of e-waste anyhow and it ends up buried in the soil or washed down into water bodies. Sometimes, it is even strewn on roadsides and along footpaths where it poses dangers to people.
However, the larger threat is that e-waste can be toxic to the environment and hazardous to human health and other living things, if not well managed.
Developing countries, such as Malawi, while increasingly consuming electrical and electronic items, face challenges to manage their waste.
Some e-waste contains precious metals such as gold, silver, copper platinum and palladium and may also contain valuable bulky materials such as iron and aluminium that have economic value when recycled.
In some countries, recycling of e-waste is done in unregulated sectors which may result in significant risk of toxic exposures to the recyclers, most of whom are women and children.
Currently, Malawi does not have legislation or established recycling points and this has created a gap in the regulation of all activities related to e-waste management.
However, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra), in collaboration with the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) in the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources, is in the process of developing an e-waste management policy.
The project is being conducted with support from the International Telecommunications Union.
EAD Environmental Officer, Patrick Nyirenda, concedes that the influx of counterfeit and second-hand products has exacerbated the problem of e-waste dumping in the country.
“The estimated proportion of e-waste in the total waste generated in the cities is about 0.3 percent. Daily generation of this may put the country at risk if the sector were not properly managed.
“Some of the waste is disposed of indiscriminately along the streets, in water bodies and open spaces or openly burnt. As for the waste that finds its way to designated disposal sites, scavengers return it into communities since the facilities are not controlled,” Nyirenda explains.
He adds that most of the waste is reused several times or dismantled for the purpose of salvaging parts to be used in repairing other equipment.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report indicated that, since 2014, the number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation had increased from 61 to 78.
Malawi is likely going to be among the forward-looking territories seeking to manage the world’s fastest growing solid waste stream.
But lack of specialised equipment or facilities for managing e-waste necessitates the need for urgent attention by stakeholders.
Director of Environmental Affairs, Tawonga Mbale-Luka, points out that e-waste needs to be cast off in an environmentally sound manner.
“E-waste may contain mercury or lead which, if disposed of anyhow, can cause damage to human health and the environment.
“That is why we have teamed up with Macra on the journey of developing an e-waste management policy. Once in place, it will act as a basis for enforcement and inspection to ensure that the public, producers and importers are properly guided on e-waste management,” Mbale- Luka says.
The World Health Organisation states in its first report on e-waste and child health that appropriate collection and recycling of e-waste is key to protecting the environment and reducing climate emissions.
“E-waste volumes are surging globally. According to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, they grew by 21 percent in the five years up to 2019, when 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated,” the United Nations agency says.
In Malawi, there is a stark increase in the consumption of electric and electronic materials.
Macra acting Director- General, Henry Silika, says Malawians need to understand e-waste management to adhere to best ways of discarding their gadgets.
“We have to act systematically by developing guiding frameworks for the people of Malawi to follow,” Silika says.
Countries such as Tanzania and Rwanda have electronic waste policies and regulations.
Rwanda further invested in a modern e-waste dismantling and recycling facility.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 predicts global e-waste to reach 74 million tonnes by 2030.
It observes that this makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fuelled by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment of short life cycles but with few options for repair.