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Dealing with electronic waste in developing countries

Dealing with electronic waste in developing countries

February 12, 2020
Marcia González

From landlines to mobile phones, typewriters to computers, pocket digital cameras to mobile phones with cameras, countries such as Tanzania have jumped a few steps ahead of digitalization compared to other developing nations. This has contributed positively to the economy. There are more jobs, inclusion, and better health and efficiency, but it has come at a cost in terms of culture and tradition.

In 2017, the Reuters news agency reported that the number of internet users in Tanzania reached 23 million, which is almost half of the total population, and the majority of those users were using handsets such as phones and tablets to reach the internet.

A recent report from the Tanzania Bureau of Statistics shows that 24% households own a television and 43% of households own a radio. When it comes to telephones, only 0.2% of households have a landline whereas 78% have a mobile phone. These electronics have made lives simpler, have reduced transaction costs and distance, saved time, promoted inclusion, and brought the outside world closer. They have also contributed to jobs creation and efficiency in many parts of the economy and society.

Yet electronic equipment is made with many toxic substances that might have direct or indirect negative implications on our health and wellbeing. Many studies such as published by the Association of Metallurgical Engineers of Serbia and the Journal of Hazardous Materials confirm that gadgets such as cell phones have a high level of toxic metals that need to be carefully stored in order to ensure safety.

In that regard, it is crucial at this stage for countries such as Tanzania to establish recycling or systematic collection and processing of electronic waste. This is important because these devices have a very short life span and most people keep their old gadgets in their homes.

That’s where the Accelerator Lab comes in.

The UNDP Tanzania Accelerator Lab, which was launched in December 2019, will be working closely with partners to search for solutions that can turn these wastes into opportunities, and solutions which can minimize the potential impacts of these wastes.

To begin to come to grips with the scale of the situation, Godfrey C Nyamrunda, head of Experimentation at the Accelerator Lab UNDP Tanzania, recently visited the city of Mwanza’s landfill, which is still under construction, and he could not spot any electronic waste. That triggered several questions. Where is the waste? Who collects it? And if it is collected, how is it recycled? Is it exported? If so, who is exporting it and to where?

In many European countries, electronic waste has been banned from landfills as a result of toxic components linked to cancer and other health problems. This doesn’t happen often in developing countries.

Fast-growing cities such as those in Tanzania are generating more electronic waste in quantity which need consistent approaches to counter this issue. Those involved in waste management need to apply technical and high-level policies to control and manage electronic waste.

Nyamrunda believes we need to raise awareness on how to manage electronic waste, the negative effects of living with it in our homes, and the possibility of converting this challenge into a business opportunity.

E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2020 takes place from Wednesday 18 November to Thursday 19 November at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Germany. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

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