Firms explore E-waste recycling business in Africa

Multinational giants in the information and communication technology (ICTs) sector intend to venture into a thriving e-waste recycling business in Africa to boost their green credentials and contribute to the continent’s economic and social transformation.
Pesticides from pyrethrum plant are now on sale. The New Times/ File.
Pesticides from pyrethrum plant are now on sale. The New Times/ File.

Multinational giants in the information and communication technology (ICTs) sector intend to venture into a thriving e-waste recycling business in Africa to boost their green credentials and contribute to the continent’s economic and social transformation.

Senior Executives from Dell, HP, Nokia and Microsoft attending a Pan African Forum on E-Waste in Nairobi were on Thursday bullish on the huge business opportunities to seize in recycling of used electronic gadgets. Africa is grappling with unregulated dumping of e-waste materials in the fragile environment and scientists warn of serious health hazards to the population if the menace is not contained.

The Nairobi e-waste forum that brought together government representatives from 15 African countries, private sector, UN agencies and NGOs, discussed sustainable options to phasing out the menace. Private sector representatives at the forum agreed that e-waste management can attract investments if governments put in place supportive legal and policy frameworks.

Jean Cox -Kearns, Global Compliance Director, Dell Take Back for Europe, Middle East and Africa, stressed that e-waste management is a viable business activity. “E-waste recycling is commercially sustainable but governments must establish the infrastructure, legal framework and its enforcement to boost the investors’ confidence,” she said. She clarified that it is financially prudent to establish recycling plants in countries with high volumes of e-waste. “Countries should collaborate and decide which countries should be recycling hubs. Other countries should collect the waste and transport it to the hub. Kenya can be a hub for East Africa while Ghana and Nigeria can act as hubs for the West African region,” Jean said.

She said there are money at all e-waste recycling chains if countries invest in supportive infrastructure and level the playing field. “Collectors can earn money same as recyclers, higher volume of e-waste recycled means more money for the recyclers,” said she and noted that small medium enterprises fit in the collection networks that demand less capital. “To set up a recycling infrastructure requires significant investment that small and medium sized enterprises cannot mobilize, “ she added.

 E-waste has potential for job creation in frontier markets of Africa where consumption of electronic goods has tripled as income levels per capita rise. Elizabeth Tanguy, Senior Sustainability Manager, Nokia, Middle East and Africa, said that e-waste has economic value and governments should enforce proper recycling standards to level the playing field. “For every 1 million mobile phones recycled, it is possible to recover 35 kilograms of gold,” Tanguy said. She urged governments to provide incentives for informal collectors to create extra jobs in urban centers.

The private sector is exploring lucrative e-waste recycling business in Africa as part of corporate social responsibility alongside contributing to economic growth in the region. Herve Guilcher, the Environment Director, Hewlett Packard (HP) disclosed that the company views e-waste recycling as part of its value system. “HP founders insisted that a company can only be sustainable through business practices that are environmentally conscious and contribute to a society’s common good,” Guilcher said.

He revealed that HP started a comprehensive recycling program in 1992 and since then, 100,000 computers have been recycled all over the world. The company is keen on e-waste recycling in Africa and has pioneered an innovative project in the Kenyan coast in partnership with the government and not for profit groups to recycle old computers.

Guilcher hailed the East African Compliant Recycling project in Mombasa for raising the bar in private sector participation in e- waste management. This facility is the second largest in Africa and operates under international recycling standards. It recycle computers from schools, serves both consumers and businesses and the informal sector deliver 20 percent of collection to the facility. “We aim to be part of the solution to e-waste menace in Africa, we are a big brand and we are proposing business solutions to this menace,” Guilcher said. “E-waste recycling is going to provide jobs and contribute to a healthy and clean environment. There is need to develop a sub- regional hub to scale up pilot projects.”

Guilcher insisted that partnerships with the government, academia, NGOs and private sector are crucial to sustaining management of e-waste in Africa. “The informal collectors matters too and we are providing the technical knowhow to enable them operate. We aim to make e-waste recycling an activity that maximizes collection while making fair profits,” Guilcher said. 

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