Waste from solar energy products an environment hazard - experts

There is a need for urgent action by all stakeholders to devise mechanisms to collect, dispose and recycle wastes from solar products that are on the rise, environmentalists have said.

Olivier Mbera, the General Manager of EnviroServe Rwanda, a public private partnership e-waste recycling facility in Bugesera District said that if not well disposed, solar products waste could endanger human health.


“The solar products waste has heavy metals that affect crops and poison food which can lead to cancer through food consumption. The solar sector can't be green when we do not dispose of and recycle waste that comes from it,” he said.


He explained that the facility collected 300 tonnes of waste from solar products, just in 2019 and this could increase to 400 tonnes in 2020.


Projections indicate that the solar waste could increase to 1,200 tonnes in 2021 and 1,400 tonnes in 2022 as off-grid energy is scaled up.

“In general, we collect between 3,000 tonnes and 4,000 tonnes of electronic waste per year and solar products waste takes 10 percent. 

Even though we collect 300 tonnes of solar products waste, there are an estimated other 300 solar products waste that remain uncollected and end up intoxicating the environment," he said.

The recycling facility is operating at 40 per cent of its capacity, calling for sustained awareness on the need to recycle electronic waste.

“We are increasing awareness on e-waste disposal so that institutions, companies and individuals put it in their business plans. We have already installed collection centres in 14 districts,” he said.

Disposal cost

Solar companies say that the disposal cost is hampering the efforts to collect and supply the waste to recycling companies.

“We have about one tonne of solar products waste but the problem is that we have to transport this to recycling companies at our own cost and we are charged about Rwf500 per kilogramme of lithium batteries and Rwf150 per kilogramme of other solar product waste. 

We need incentives to reduce such disposal cost to motivate us to take the waste to recycling plants,” said Salim Mbarushimana, The Distribution Director at Ignite Power.

Fred Mbonera, the Sales and marketing manager with Elerai Global Service said they have a container of solar products dumped but disposal cost remains prohibitive.

“It is costly for us to go in rural areas where we distribute products and collect those that become waste then transport them to recycling companies at our cost and even be charged disposal cost. We need incentives,” he said.

Deal with solar companies

On Friday October 9, EnviroServe Rwanda signed a partnership agreement with Energy Private Developers (EPD), an association bringing together all private companies operating in the energy sector in Rwanda to form a framework that will ease disposal of solar energy waste.

Through the agreement, the firms agreed to set up a clear collection mechanism for this type of waste to encourage companies and communities to have the waste appropriately disposed of.

“This agreement will ensure proper disposal of the waste,” said Mbera.

He added that under the new framework, such companies can also be paid on some product waste they take to the factory.

“We repair some and are reused. For instance we refurbish and distribute over 3,000 computers. Others are supplied as raw materials to other recycling companies. E-waste that can’t be dismantled and recycled locally exported to other recycling companies,” he said.

For solar products waste, lithium batteries are especially exported for recycling, he noted.

Sanday Kabarebe, the CEO of Energy Private Developers (EPD), said the partnership with recycling plants will help solar companies to get solutions to solar products waste.

“We have many companies in solar energy.  The agreement will make e-waste effectively disposed of. We will also discuss incentives to these companies to reduce disposal cost. We will conduct a feasibility study for that. They can even be paid on some products such as batteries,” he said.

There are over 30 solar companies that are members to the association, he said.

“Households will also play a big role in waste disposal and we will be recommending companies to work with recycling plants,” Kabarebe added.


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