The need to manage Ghana’s e-waste system

… Lessons from other countries

“In a country with a struggling health service, cancer will eventually end in death”, The Irish Times recently reported in a feature covered on Ghana’s electronic waste (e-waste) management system.

Electronic and electrical waste is the fastest growing garbage in the world with an estimated 40 to 50 million tons waste generated annually. Many developing countries lack the capacity of managing the hazardous waste.   

The city of Rwanda has been adjudged as one of the cleanest cities in Africa. To tackle the menace of e-waste, the Rwandan government recently invested US$1.5 million in an electronic and electrical waste management and dismantling facility in Kigali, the country’s capital.  

Aside establishing the facility in 2017, Rwanda has also stopped importing used computers. Reports indicate that existing old ones have been harvested for valuable materials and other parts recycled.  

The boom in the consumption of electronic products have also come with a price to be paid.  Studies and research works have proven that e-waste contain toxic substances like cadmium and lead, capable of destroying the human cells when direct contact is established. These elements are potentially cancer-causing agents.

These elements have been proven to be dangerous to human health. Once they are exposed to humans, they are capable of destroying the internal organs. For instance, cadmium destroys the human kidney, most especially the proximal tubular cells.

It is also noted to cause bone demineralization whiles excessive exposure may impair lung function and increase the risk of lung cancer.

Lead on the other hand, affects multiple body systems and the UN has said it is particularly harmful to young children.  

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that West Africa remains a major destination for e-waste whereas some Asian countries are also recipients of millions of tons of e-waste goods. This is as a result of free trade agreements with some western countries.

An estimated 45.7 million metric tons of electronic goods were generated last year worldwide and out of this, reports indicate that only 20 percent were recycled and properly disposed.

The enterprise is seen as the fastest growing activity as experts foresee a further 17 percent increase worldwide by the close of 2021. The sector has flourished due to the falling prices of electronics and electrical gadgets which is now affordable for most people worldwide.

Ghana initiated moves to tackle the menace of e-waste by passing the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control Management Act, 2016 (Act 917). The act was instituted to provide for the control measure, management and disposal of hazardous electronic waste that are shipped into the country.

However, Ghana has since had teasing challenges in managing the tons of thousands of e-waste that enter the country, leaving the streets and various dump sites littered with old computer and mobile phone parts, electric cables, televisions, refrigerators and what have you.

Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra is a notable end point of majority of the world’s e-waste for quite long time. Some international media outlets have described the place as one of the world’s biggest graveyards for electronic goods, the problem e-waste management system has had challenges in the country. 

Impact in Togo

Whiles the activity has become a thorn in the flesh for Ghanaians to cope with, just to the east of neighbouring Togo, some tech hubs in the Capital, Lome, have seen it as an opportunity, not only to cash in, but soaring high through creativity and innovation.  

Through watching internet videos, some local tech gurus have acquired relevant knowledge by creating 3D printers out of e-waste. They now call the sector a “gold mine”, thus, according to a recent BBC documentary on the management of e-waste in the country.

Each year, an estimated 500, 000 tons of e-waste arrive in Lome, thus amounting to the current change of the mindset of tech operators in the country, stating their intent to turning such goods into more important devises for the teeming unemployed youths to capitalize.      

The industry has generated millions of revenues for people in the sector. However, the main problem has been instituting measures to deal with the harmful effects it poses to the environment. 

Ghana

In finding innovative and sustainable ways of managing the country’s e-waste generated daily, President Akufo-Addo in August this year announced government’s commitment to construct an integrated e-waste recycling facility in Agbogbloshie, to accumulate into good use the tens and thousands of tons of e-waste goods that enter the country.

This is a good drive towards harnessing the country’s management of e-waste. The move when comes to fruition will definitely create jobs for some number of people, improve their living conditions and contribute to the gradual process of eliminating the goods that are littered across the length and breadth of the streets.

The establishment of the state-of-the-art recycling facility is in fulfillment of section 31 of Act 917, which is very critical to the successful implementation of the law.

Notwithstanding the positive aspects of this project, installing an e-waste recycling hub with no or less capacity of treating the toxic goods in an acceptable manner leaves much to be desired.

With regards to section 31 of Act 917, there are a number of parliamentary acts that have required the establishment of institutions to spearhead their implementation. Some of these acts are the National Migration Policy (passed in 2016) that called for the establishment of a National Migration Commission and the National Sports Commission, proposed by the Dzamefe Commission report on the aftermath of Ghana’s participation at the 2014 World Cup.   

They were to be established to begin the processes of key issues affecting the sectors respectively.

However, since their approval stages, these commissions have not been established, leaving their respective implementations in limbo.

It is important to note that such lukewarm attitude is not transferred into the establishment of the e-waste recycling facility, despite its preparatory works.

By Dundas Whigham