As Nigeria becomes a mobile first nation, with high import of technology equipments, so is the increase of risks to health and environment growing as a result of poor electronic waste (E-waste) management; even as used and obsolete electronic and electrical equipments find their way into third world countries that are hungry for information technology access.
In Nigeria, proper recycling and disposal of dangerous electronic components which contain mercury, lead, sulfur, phosphorus, copper, beryllium etc are often ignored, and this poses a great danger to environmental health, hazards to humans, livestock and ecology.
Industry analysts say it is worrisome that Nigerians are unaware of the dangers inherent in careless handling of E-waste which is already leading to the death of millions of people in the country and continent.
“There are major health hazards in the current disposal of electronic waste in this country. E-waste is the most rapid growing waste stream in the world right now and in Nigeria, we are still importing dead electronics. In fact, companies actually export electronic waste to us on purpose, because it is cheaper and more beneficial for them to export to us instead of treating it within their own plants,” Ifeanyi Ochonogor, CEO E-Terra Technologies Limited and president, E-waste relief foundation told BusinessDay.
According to him; every single piece of electronic device; whether its SIM cards, ATM cards, hard drives, or home electronics are supposed to be destroyed in an eco-friendly way when they are not in use anymore.
“That is the enforced law in developed countries. Technology is not just to innovate, but also to properly dispose by closing the loop of recycling and also to engage the proper circular economy. Mobile phones and other electronics need to be disposed in an eco friendly manner, so that it doesn’t poison the environment and the people,” Ochonogor said.
Rapid technological growth leads to higher rate of production of electronics equipments which therefore increases the need for e-waste management, in terms of awareness and opportunities in the sector.
Research carried out by Research Gate reveals that about 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of E-waste are generated worldwide every year. In United States alone, 14 to 20 million personal computers are thrown out each year, with an annual increase of 3-5%. However, only about 13-18% is recycled. In the end, the disused equipment, end up in landfills where they pose environmental and health hazards to humans, livestock and the soil. Some of these are incinerated, leading to environmental pollution from the fumes.
According to Computer and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria, for example, up to 75% of electronics shipped to the Computer Village in Ikeja, Lagos are irreparable junk. Nigeria, like almost all other African countries, has a thriving market for pre-used electronic junks as a result of hunger for global IT relevance in order to bridge the digital divide.
Most countries in Africa are struggling to manufacture local technology content; talk-less of capacity to safely dispose of them. Africa, in particular, is the latest destination for E-waste, referred to as the ‘digital dump’ by the Basel Convention Network.
“This is something that we are trying to change, because EPAs abroad also know about this and are trying to control it. Right now, we have the extended producer responsibility, so the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) need to cater for proper recycling and eco-friendly treatment of electronic waste,” Ochologor said.
Speaking recently at a global dialogue forum on decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), which took place in Geneva, Ibiene Okelek, Nigeria’s NECA delegate and chief human resource officer, Ikeja Electric said; “While there are clear and present dangers from e-waste, there are also huge opportunities. It, therefore, requires the right framework, legislation and drive to ensure that proper sustainable action is carried out as far as e-waste management is concerned.”
In its report, E-Terra Technologies, pioneers in e-waste recycling and data destruction says that Nigeria’s used electronics refurbishing sector generates about $50.8million in a year. Sadly, this statistic is only for e-waste management in Lagos state alone.
Stakeholders believe that the country will mop up revenue in billions if other state governments and citizens commit to engage in proper and professional e-waste management.
“Even burning of natural waste products is hazardous to the environment as it causes air pollution, so you can imagine the impact of burning or carelessly disposing plastics, chemical and electronic components. E-waste is the most toxic form of waste right now and even its storage is a case for concern, as our heat and humid environment is not friendly to these components, as it takes a longer rate of time to decay,” Subomi Sodipo, CEO, CF mobile told BusinessDay in a telephone interview.
Industry analysts therefore suggest that government agencies such as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), put some institutional framework in place to address issues surrounding e-waste management in Nigeria.