Rolling away illegal e-waste shipments from Nigeria

Over the years, Nigeria remains one of the destination countries for illegal trans-boundary shipment of end of life electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). There is convincing evidence that despite the efforts of government, which include the enactment of the Basel Convention and other regional and local regulations, electronic waste (e-waste) still find its way into the country, posing a problem for the environment and humans.

The report of the Person in Port (PIP) project published in 2017 reveals that about 19 percent by weight of Used Electrical and Electronic Equipment (UEEE) imported into Nigeria in 2015 and 2016 were found to be non-functional and constituted e-waste.

A common type of illegal e-waste shipment experienced in the Country is Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) screens containing devices such as televisions and monitors. CRT screens are heavily leaded glass screens containing about 35 percent of lead oxide (Step Green Paper Series 2016). The presence of lead: a toxic heavy metal, with adverse effect on human health when inhaled or ingested makes CRT screens highly polluting and difficult to recycle.

The recycling challenge is further aggravated by technological replacement from CRT to flat screens in most devices, thus making CRT screens an obsolete technology. CRT obsolescence makes its recycling into new CRTs impossible and the high PbO content makes the glass unsuitable for other glass applications. CRT glasses in Nigeria, therefore accumulates in repairers’ shops and eventually in dump sites.

To confront the challenge of growing stockpiles of CRT tubes across the Country, in 2011 the Nigerian government issued both a regulation and legislation to ensure environmentally sound management (ESM) of e-waste, restrict the importation of WEEE and also banned the importation of devices containing CRT. Despite the enactment of this legal instrument, CRT devices still find their way into the country. The PIP report revealed that 260 tonnes of CRT are imported into Nigeria annually.

The National Environmental Standards and Enforcement Agency (NESREA), which is the enforcement arm of the Federal Ministry of Environment, over the years have been working collaboratively with the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to repatriate shipments of e-waste brought into the country right from the port. In 2019 the agency adopted another application of the polluter pays principle, imposing fines on importers of e-waste and making them responsible for the ESM here in the Country in the Border to Recycling Initiative.

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With this initiative, any importer found introducing e-waste is immediately handed over to E-waste Producer Responsibility Organisation of Nigeria (EPRON), made to bear the cost of transporting the e-waste from the port to the recycler and as well bear the financial responsibility of its responsible recycling through one of EPRON’s registered recyclers. Since 2019, six importers of CRT have been apprehended for importing about 2.362 tons of CRT tubes.

These importers have been made to pay for the environmentally sound management of the CRT tubes with E-Terra Technologies (one of the government accredited and registered recyclers in Lagos State). Beyond paying for the recycling of the CRT devices, these importers were fined.

CRT devices are usually shipped into the country by unsuspecting Importers who are ignorant of existing local regulations. They are enticed with the next to nothing cost of the devices sold to them by some cunning business men from the destination countries. Unknown to them, these business men are simply transferring their own liability to them and using them for trans-boundary shipment of hazardous materials.

It is important to note that importation of CRT devices even if given for free, will not make any business sense. The importer will pay for shipping, clearing, will pay a fine and eventually pay for responsible recycling if apprehended. More importantly it is a crime not only against the government of Nigeria but against humanity to transfer hazardous materials that will serve no value other to pollute the environment, especially the soil and underground water when these products are brought into the country.

Remember, we have only one earth and the environment have no boundaries, the lead contamination from the CRT will not remain localised, the adverse effect may well be at your doorstep tomorrow. In that regard, Nigerian business men need to harm themselves with knowledge of existing regulations governing any business venture they are embarking on.

In the case of EEE, Importers must note that, while it is not wrong to bring in UEEE into the Country, the importation of end of life and near end of life UEEE is illegal. Importers should therefore limit themselves to the importation of tested and functional UEEE.

Faluyi, executive secretary, E-waste Producers Responsibility Organisation of Nigeria, writes from Lagos

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