Speakers at the joint IUPAC CHEMRAWN XXII E-waste in Africa conference and the 44th Annual International Conference of Chemical Society of Nigeria have lamented Nigeria’s status as international dumpsites for electronic junks and other forms of e-waste.
They noted that the health hazards from the accumulation of e-waste go beyond the people working with the electronic devices.
The event, which held in Lagos last week, was themed ‘Global Electrical and Electronics Waste: Health Hazards for Africa.’
According to Moses Chendo, president, Chemical Society of Nigeria, the growth in electrical and electronic equipment production and consumption has been exponential in the last two decades.
He noted that this has been as a result of the rapid changes in equipment features and capabilities, decrease in prices, and the growth in Internet use.
“This creates a large volume of waste stream of obsolete electrical and electronics devices (e-waste) in developed countries,” Mr Chendo said.
“There is a high level of transboundary movement of these devices as secondhand electronic equipment into developing countries in an attempt to bridge the digital divide. The past decade has witnessed a phenomenal advancement in ICT in Nigeria, most of which rely on imported second-hand devices.”
He noted that more than 25 per cent of used electrical and electronic equipment imported into Nigeria are “dead on arrival.”
“According to ILO, up to 100,000 people work in the informal waste-recycling sector in Nigeria. They collect and dismantle electronics by hand to reclaim components that can be sold. These people are in danger of direct chemical poisoning leading to organ dysfunction or disorders that are an indirect result of exposure to hazardous chemicals.
“Poor African countries such as Nigeria have literally been turned into international dump sites for all manner of electronic junk, where environmental restrictions are lax and economies poor. It is worrisome that the health hazards resulting from the accumulation of e-waste transcend the labourers working with the electronic devices.”
Jay Oghifo, the head of the organising committee, said the choice of Africa as the host for the conference is because many countries on the continent carry an enormous health and environmental burden due to inappropriate handling of e-waste pollution arriving legally and illegally. He noted that the consequences are particularly severe in Nigeria, a reason the conference held in the country.
Mr Oghifo said to solve the continent’s e-waste problem, current practices and the illegal trade in the e-waste business should be tackled. He said they provide economic stimulus for the continent and, therefore, implementing a high-tech, capital-intensive recycling process may not be appropriate in every country or region as cheap, safe.
Mr Oghifo stated that a simple processing methods for introduction into the informal sector are currently lacking; hence, it is necessary to create a financial incentive for recyclers operating in the informal sector to deliver recovered parts to central collection sites rather than process them themselves.
“Effective regulation must be combined with incentives for recyclers in the informal sector not to engage in destructive processes. Multidisciplinary solutions are therefore vital in addition to technical solutions, as is addressing the underlying social inequities inherent in the e-waste business.
“Recycling operations in the informal sector of the economy enable employment for hundreds of thousands of people in poverty. A possible entry point to address their negative impacts is to address occupational risks, targeting poverty as the root cause of hazardous work and, in the process, developing decent working conditions.”
Mr Oghifo said solutions to the global e-waste problem involve awareness-raising among both consumers and e-waste recyclers in the informal economy, integration of the informal sector with the formal, creating green jobs, enforcing legislation and labour standards, and eliminating practices, which are harmful to human health and the environment.
“It is also imperative to target electrical and electronics manufacturers by introducing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation and encouraging initial designs to be green, long lived, upgradeable and built for recycling.”