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Malawi concedes it is stuck with e-waste

Michael Malakata | May 30, 2013
Problem affects many African countries

The Malawian government has for the first time openly acknowledged that it has a serious e-waste problem, highlighting the growing concern by many other countries in the region.

Last year, 18 African countries and the U.N. agreed on plans to reduce electronic waste, following reports about the growing tide of discarded computer products in the region.

Meanwhile, Aloysius Kamperewera, the director of environmental affairs in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Management in Malawi, has told state-owned Malawi News Agency (Mana), "the situation is helpless because the Malawian government has no concrete plans of managing e-wastes."

Experts in the region have been warning that Africa will generate more e-waste than Europe by 2017 because of the increasing consumption of electronic products, coupled with dumping. Malawi is a party to the Basel Convention, which regulates e-waste.

In Zambia, efforts by the government to block entry of unusable and counterfeit electronic equipment into the country have so far not yielded any meaningful results.

Last year's UNEP report found that 85 percent of the waste produce in West Africa alone comes from domestic consumption. But the problem is further exacerbated by industrialized nations exporting used electronic equipment that often proved to be unusable and ends up being discarded.

"Many Zambians own a mobile phone and other ICT equipment. The situation is not different from other countries in Africa. But there is nothing these governments are doing to control the careless disposal of the equipment. Lead poisoning is deadly and must be controlled," said Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development.

The UNEP report singled out the U.K. as the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment, followed by France and German. However, the problem is that several African countries do not yet have ICT policies in place to support the establishment of e-waste plants. As in many other countries in Africa including Zambia and Zimbabwe, at present Malawi has no specific places for disposal of such waste.

Kamperewera said, however, that efforts are under way in Malawi to develop a draft policy for e-waste under the e-government initiative as well as the Basel Convention on management of hazardous wastes.

Much of the recycling that takes place in Africa occurs on an informal basis, often in uncontrolled dumpsites or landfills.

In Southern Africa, only South Africa has recycling plants while in East Africa, only Kenya has a recycling plant.

The careless disposal of obsolete electronic equipment can cause significant health and environmental risks. E-waste can contain hazardous substances, including heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine-disrupting substances such as brominated flame retardants.

 

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