e-waste isn’t a topic that dominates discussions on technology, most probably because it doesn’t have the allure of innovation and progress that’s typical of advances in IT. Then there’s that word, waste, which just nudges people to just relegate this type of talk to any other time but now.
The reality, though, is that it is a problem, even for Zimbabwe. At the recent e-Tech Africa Expo, some presentations on e-waste management kicked up the awareness gear on the subject, highlighting how our country isn’t yet fully prepared to deal with the aspect of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) waste management.
Right now there are no e-standards that are used for importation, current e-waste generation isn’t documented, no incentives are being offered for e-waste separation, approved e-waste recyclers are yet to be selected, funding for any research, when available is still limited and, more importantly, the public is still not aware of the hazards associated with e-waste mismanagement.
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Aren’t we overreacting?
E-waste goes beyond just the discarding of old monitors and CPUs, the entire range of EEE waste is of concern here. In an increasingly digital and connected world, both electric waste
In an increasingly digital and connected world, both electric waste (which relates to your other appliances like refrigerators, irons, kettles or microwaves) and electronic waste (which covers our everyday tech hardware like cellphones, tablets, monitors, TVs, computers and IT peripherals) is rising exponentially. A look at the increasing mobile penetration and booming downstream formal and informal markets are a fair testament to that.
There are risks that the types of e-waste created from this can expose to the natural environment and even to people. Continued exposure to some of the mineral and chemical compositions in e-waste leaves people vulnerable to the threat of diseases and conditions that include cancer, organ damage, and the weakening of immune systems.
For most people it at all sounds like a bit of an overreaction at this point, especially since there doesn’t seem to be any immediate effects noticed when someone eventually discards that phone, battery, charger or tablet that can’t be salvaged. There are, however, long-term consequences that need to be prepared for now by preventive actions and practices.
The good news is that the government is aware of the e-waste challenge and steps are underway to curb any risks that it brings. According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, Engineer Sam Kundishora, a policy on national e-waste management has gone through the initial draft stage and will be presented in June 2016.
This piece of legislation is meant to outline the roles of various stakeholders in e-waste management, how the public and private sector will work together, and the opportunities that can be explored by anyone who wants to provide a solution for the growing e-waste challenge.
Not every bet is being put on the policy alone. An e-waste task force was recently formed and it will operate with a mandate to assess the scope of the e-waste problem for Zimbabwe. Its work will influence policy deliberations as well as determining how much of an effort the country needs to put into this.
Speaking on the sidelines of the e-Tech Expo, one of the presenters who is an authority on e-Waste, Engineer Fred Gweme, applauded the government’s efforts so far but pointed out that we are lagging behind and there will be a need for public and private sector engagement to catch up.
According to Gweme, who is a director at The Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC), a lot of change can be led by for-profit entities that appreciate the benefits of e-waste management and act in response to legislative guidelines.
Gweme also emphasised the commercial opportunity that lies in e-waste management through activities such as precious metals extractions and recycling.
At this stage, as the policy is aligned with an increased awareness, the hope is that some Zimbabwean tech entrepreneurs identify some of these opportunities and look at e-waste as something more than just a workshop discussion.