Experts from various entities in regional countries are meeting in Kigali to discuss ways of how e-waste can be sustainably managed across the East African Community (EAC).
E-waste, which includes anything with a plug or a battery, includes such items as refrigerators, televisions, solar panels, mobile phones, and computers, is a health and environmental hazard that the region is trying to contain in an efficient and sustainable manner.
The workshop is organised by the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) in collaboration with the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).
Dr Ally Yahaya Simba, the Executive Secretary of EACO, noted that a 2014 survey by the UN Environment Agency estimated that Kenya generated about 44,000 tonnes of e-waste per year, while Tanzania generates around 45,000 tonnes, Uganda 25,000 tonnes, Rwanda more than 10,000 tonnes, while Burundi generates 9,000.
“The challenges of e-waste range from increasing stock of e-waste in the region to potential environment and health problems associated with it,” Simba said.
“Exposure to this high risk is attributed to a number of factors including: lack of public awareness on e-waste management issues; lack of data on e-waste volumes generated; lack of proper and safe e-waste disposal methods and systems; and gaps in implementation and enforcement of our policy, regulatory and legal frameworks on e-waste management.”
Simba said that reliance on statistics made before 2015 is “a great hinderence” to the regional effort.
The Kigali-based EAC institution has, among others, facilitated the process of establishing national e-waste management steering committees in partner states and “we expect South Sudan to establish theirs next year.”
The workshop which has policy makers and experts from EAC countries is themed: “Implementation of the Regional E-Waste Management Strategy and National E-waste Regulations Awareness”.
Patrick Nyirishema, the RURA Director General, among others, noted that it is important that people take time and reflect on where the many plug-ins or battery-operated devices go after they are no longer needed as their poor disposal leads to human health and environmental hazards.
“E-waste is much more toxic when we leave it out in the environment. We need to create more awareness so that people understand the dangers. Of course there is a problem of collecting but I think awareness is also a factor,” he said.
Rwanda is at the forefront in efforts to ensure e-waste does not harm people and the environment and has set up, a national environment policy, a five-year strategy, and environment legislation, among others.
Nyirishema added: “There is no doubt that each EAC partner state is working on different initiatives and, this workshop is for us to share best practices.”
Information and communications technology has been driving economic growth in East Africa over the last decade, growing - the growth largely coming from innovation by large multinational and local enterprises - on an average of more than 15 percent for each EAC partner state.
However, according to EACO, the rapid growth of ICT and the economy contributed to massive generation of electrical and electronic waste.
It is estimated that, every year, 50 million tons of e-waste is generated worldwide with most of it ending up in developing countries for re-use and disposal.
Regional e-waste management strategy
A regional e-waste management strategy was adopted last July by EACO and spells out priority areas along with specific actions to manage e-waste in member countries as the latter look to achieve a zero negative impact of e-waste by 2030.
The new regional strategy, which is being discussed in Kigali, promotes the principle of extended producer responsibility to finance proper collection and treatment of e-waste.