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  • Blueprint to process e-waste in Africa developed

Concerns over mounting electronic waste in Africa have led to the development of a framework to help the continent deal with the problem.

E-waste — unwanted electronic goods such as computers and mobile phones — needs to be disposed of or recycled carefully to avoid health problems and environmental contamination from component toxic materials such as lead and mercury.

In some African countries there have been fears that the use of electronics is rising with no parallel increase in safe disposal methods.

A team of organisations — which began investigating e-waste in Africa in 2007 (see Hewlett Packard to aid Africa's e-waste battle) — reported last month that the scenario varies widely from country to country.

Morocco, for example, produces 13,500 tonnes of e-waste per year from computers alone, whereas this figure is around 3,000 tonnes in Kenya, according to research by the group, which includes the Global Digital Solidarity Fund, the Swiss Institute for Material Science (Empa) and computer company Hewlett-Packard (HP).

They said that these figures could double or triple as a result of strong growth in the ICT sector.

The group also initiated a pilot scheme establishing a local, self-sustainable e-waste recycling facility in Cape Town, South Africa. Started in 2008, the facility has so far processed around 60 tonnes of e-waste, generating an income of US$14,000 and creating direct employment for 19 people.

"The Cape Town Pilot is a local decentralised first-step recycling solution that can be used as a model for other African countries," said Mathias Schluep, project manager for sustainable technology cooperation at Empa, at a press briefing (17 February).

"We now know how to approach a country [tackling e-waste] at the beginning to find out what solution we can come up with, how to get the right information."

Kirsty McIntyre, HP's environmental compliance manager, said the project is intended to make sure that e-waste processing is done in an environmentally sound manner that protects the health and safety of workers.

The group has now put together a series of recommendations for dealing with e-waste, though it emphasises that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the global problem.

"What we're looking for are regional solutions," McIntyre told SciDev.Net. "It's very difficult to get across how long it takes to do this kind of work. There are pockets of academic work on e-waste, but nobody has ever pulled it all together."

The second phase of the project seeks to engage government and corporate partners to extend e-waste management programmes to other African countries, eventually reaching the entire continent.

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