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Computer company Hewlett-Packard (HP) has launched a project to help local African enterprises perform safer and more effective electronic waste recycling.

The project, in association with the Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and the Swiss Institute for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), was launched in London, United Kingdom, yesterday (18 September).

The initiative will begin in Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia, examining each country's situation and providing expertise and funds to private initiatives to improve the level of e-waste recycling.

"We hope that this initial analysis will enable us to create a widespread public private partnership that will not only improve health and environmental standards, but also help disadvantaged communities by promoting skills and creating jobs," said Klaus Hieronymi, of HP's Environment Business Management Organisation.

According to the European Environmental Agency, e-waste is growing faster than any other type of waste, with an annual volume close to 40 million metric tons globally.

Dumping or improper recycling of electronic waste causes serious environmental contamination, and while electronic goods are mostly used in the developed world, many end up in developing countries.

Africa has become the e-waste dumping ground of choice, creating huge problems in a continent that does not have the resources to deal with such specialised waste management, say HP.

At a press conference Kirstie McIntyre, HP's environmental take-back compliance manager was asked why the initiative was not starting in countries with bigger e-waste problems, such as Nigeria.

She said the initiative was starting in countries with a higher gross domestic product, which have higher electronic purchase levels and therefore urgently need structures in place to deal with potential e-waste increases.

Ruediger Kuehr, executive secretary of the Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) initiative — a UN scheme to create global standards in e-waste — welcomed the project. "We are very supportive of such initiatives where large private companies start doing these kinds of social projects, which are not only PR," he said. 

Kuehr told SciDev.Net that negotiations to put the project under the StEP initiative are taking place.

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