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Centre offers hope for e-waste recycling

Njange Maina and Sandra Wekesa @PeopleDailyKe

Our guess is; you have in your house some obsolete computer or telephony equipment you stopped using a while ago.

You probably gave your kids an old phone to use as a toy, which they even put in the mouth as they play.

If our guess is right, we further think you’re an environment-wary citizen and you’re probably getting worried about that ever-accumulating pile of dead remote controls, cells and an endless list of electricity-powered gadgets. The pile is probably harbouring some pests.

Recently, you disposed of the dead equipment along with the kitchen waste. Due to the sentimental attachment to some of the equipment, you considered some too precious to dispose of for free but no one will pay a dime for this stuff.

The challenge of electronic waste is not just a household problem. It is a global threat. We typed this story from a laptop, which will soon be outdated as it has already started seeking repairer’s attention.

The rapid growth of technology means the world is churning out high volumes of electronic waste every second.

Electronic waste better known as e-waste, comprises discarded electrical or electronic devices, destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. Most of the discarded electronics have dangerous chemical substances that are potentially toxic to the surrounding.

Most mobile phones and computer gadgets have parts made from lithium, cadmium and lead. The metals can cause serious poisoning to the body if handled carelessly.

Some computer monitors and television sets have cathode ray tubes (CRT) and despite being very hard to recycle, also contain lead and phosphorous.

Leaking refrigerators emit chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to the atmosphere, which bite into layers of the ozone layer. The depletion of the ozone layer is the reason you will soon experience abnormally hot temperatures.

Almost every electronic gadget has a toxic substance besides the plastic casing that is non-biodegradable. Careless disposal of such waste in rivers, soil and the atmosphere injects toxic substances into the ecosystem, which finally end up in our bloodstreams. When you dispose of a phone, it probably endsup in the hands of David Kiarie, who operates an electronics repair shop and recycling centre adjacent to an inorganic dumpsite in Ngara.

In a day, Kiarie handles over 50 kilogrammes of damaged electronic equipment. Once the waste is offloaded, Kiarie dismantles the equipment and sorts it.“My first option is to repair the item. If it is damaged beyond repair, I dismantle the parts,” says Kiarie. “Inside a computer CPU, there are copper wires, metal parts and some plastic elements. All are recycled differently,” add Kiarie.

Near his workshop is a muscular young man seated on a discarded computer monitor casing. The plastic casing now serves as a seat. The man is hammering a computer CPU. As we are told, the young man is Kiarie’s errand boy who helps him to sort the waste.

Once Kiarie has separated the metal, plastic and circuit boards, he packs them for different destinations.

“We sell the inside computer parts to ‘Muchina’ (a person of Chinese origin) and the metal parts to a nearby scrap metal dealer. The plastic parts are bought by our neighbours,” adds Kiarie.

The inorganic dumpsite adjacent to Kiarie’s premises serves as a plastic recycling centre.

Kiarie, his clients and competitors are apparently ignorant of the toxic metals and other hazardous substances in the waste. It is evident they do not take any safety precautions in handling the waste.

As a developing country, Kenya is choking under the weight of e-waste, thanks to an inadequate legal framework, ignorance and a detestably high rate of electronics importation.

According to a study report published in Nigeria, developing countries absorb over 80 per cent of global electronic waste. Much of this waste is disguised as ‘refurbished electronics’. Kenya, Nigeria and India are the main intakes of the global e-waste, the report says.

Kenya lacks a clear up-to-date legal policy to control the importation, usage and disposal of electronic waste.

In 1992, Kenya became a party to the Basel Convention of the United Nations, which binds signatories to prohibit trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste such as discarded medical and electronic equipment. In Kenya, the Basel convention is probably not a law but a reference for environmental debates.

In 2013, the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) in collaboration with different stakeholders drafted a policy to guide e-waste management. The policy was later developed into a Bill.

Five years later, it is still pending in Parliament as the National Environment Bill. An attempt by an NGO in Mihang’o, Kayole to rid Kenya of e-waste is perhaps the Kenyan answer to the e-waste menace.

Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Centre is the only registered e-waste recycling centre in Kenya. The firm disposes of and recycles waste using modern technology.

Seth Munyambu, the operations manager of WEEE centre, says they receive about 20-25 tonnes of e-waste per month. They recycle and export to Europe parts that cannot be processed further. “We have the capacity to process 75 tonnes of e-waste per month but we only receive about 20-25 tonnes,” says Munyambu.

“Our recycling plant receive e-waste from government agencies, learning institutions, business corporations and domestic households,” he says. Munyambu estimates that what they process is only 1 per cent of Kenya’s total e-waste which means that over 2,228 tonnes of e-waste is probably being mishandled and likely causing slow poisoning.

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