Dangers of poor e-waste handling

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

The term e-waste is a generic term encompassing various forms of electrical and electronic equipment that are old, end-of-life electronic appliances, or have ceased to be of any value to their owners. E-waste includes electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. E-waste is the most rapidly growing problem in the waste stream due to its quantity, toxicity and carcinogenicity. Often, the toxic material is improperly disposed and thus poses a threat to human health and the environment.
Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) poses one of the greatest environmental challenges globally and in particular to developing countries. Increased changes in technology especially in ICT, low initial cost, and high rates of obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of e- waste generation in Kenya. UNEP estimates the current e-waste generated annually in Kenya at 11,400 tonnes from refrigerators, 2,800 tonnes from TVs, 2,500 tonnes from personal computers, 500 tonnes from printers and 150 tonnes from mobile phones (UNEP & UNU, 2009). This has resulted in e-waste management challenges that call for interventions.
The ecological, economic and social consequences resulting from poor handling and management of e-waste include:
Environmental consequences
 Air pollution, especially when e-waste is burnt
 Waste management problem of non-biodegradable equipment
 Toxicity and radioactive nature of e-waste to the human, water, soil and animals
 Blockage of water runoff channels
 Increased amount of waste
 Waste management disposal problem
Economic consequences
 Substantial public spending on health care
 Investments in complex and expensive environment remediation technologies
 Loss / waste of resources that can be recycled for re-use
 Opportunities for recycling industries and employment lost
 Ozone depletion has led to unpredictable weather conditions. Prolonged droughts and
floods demand the use of resources which should be deployed for growth and development in other sectors
Social consequences
 E-waste affects people’s health (e.g. lead poisoning and cancerous mercury).
 Growth of informal waste disposal centres in the neighbourhood
 Informal trade and management of e-waste
 Loss of appreciation for ICT
NEMA (2010) Guidelines for E-waste management in Kenya. NEMA, Nairobi

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