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UN urges Ghana to support recycling sector to tackle e-waste

E-waste is a growing problem on the continent

The U.N. is urging the Ghanaian government to support the country's recycling sector to ensure it can cope with the huge amount of e-waste that ends up in the West African country.

A recently released U.N. report highlights the challenges that African countries are facing in dealing with e-waste due to a lack of recycling plants.

"There is need for the Ghanaian government to give sufficient support and alternative means of livelihood to local communities that depend on recycling electronics for survival in order for them to discontinue the harmful trade," in recycled products, the report said.

The report comes just two months after the Malawian government admitted openly for the first time that it has a serious e-waste problem, a concern that has been highlighted by many African countries.

In Zambia, efforts by the Zambian government to block entry of unusable and counterfeit electronic equipment into the country has so far not yielded any meaningful results.

So far in Africa, only Uganda has managed to impose a ban on imports of used computers into the country until an environmental policy to handle electronic waste is put in place.

Experts in the region have long been warning that Africa will generate more e-waste than Europe by 2017 because of the increasing consumption of electronic products, coupled with dumping. Many African countries including Ghana, Zambia and Malawi are a party to the Basel Convention, which regulates e-waste. But many of these countries have no concrete plans for managing e-waste.

The problem has further been compounded by the fact that many African countries do not yet have ICT policies in place to support the establishment of e-waste plants. As in many other countries in Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, at present Ghana has no specific places for disposal of e-waste. Much of the burning of electronic products in the region takes place illegally in the "informal recycling sector."

Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development, said the problem Africa is facing regarding e-waste is purely a result of lack of political will and a disregard for the environment and people's health.

"A country does not need to have a recycling plant for it to recycle electronic products. Electronic products can be collected at designated places and sent to countries that have recycling plants for recycling," said Mwale.

Although the U.N. said 85 percent of the waste produced in West Africa alone comes from domestic consumption, most of the products themselves are made outside Africa and find their to the region for second-hand sales and donations.

A previous U.N. report singled out the U.K. as the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment to Africa, followed by France and Germany.

In Southern Africa, only South Africa has recycling plants while in East Africa, only Kenya has a recycling plant.

The careless disposal of obsolete electronic equipment can cause significant health and environmental risks. E-waste can contain hazardous substances, including heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine-disrupting substances such brominated flame retardants.

According to last year's U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) report, although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace as more people start using mobile phones and personal computers.


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