Science, technology and innovation have become fundamentals in solving problems that shape our planet, our people, prosperity and peace. The past decades have witnessed the prominence of technology in the social, economic and political as well as many other spheres. Technology companies have invested substantial resources in research and development as they adapt to market demands, environmental shifts and ever-changing customer needs. Most ICT manufacturers are releasing new products every year as they seek to be competent and remain relevant in the global market; this, however, has also made many products obsolete as product support is revoked while manufacturers focus on promoting new products in stock; hence many will reach their end of life early while still performing well.
According to the Global E-waste Monitor report for 2020 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in 2019, the world generated a striking 53.6 Metric Tonnes of e-waste, an average of 7.3 kg per capita. The global generation of e-waste grew by 9.2 Mt since 2014 and is projected to grow to 74.7 Metric Tonnes by 2030, almost doubling in 16 years.
Covid19 has catalysed the need for people and businesses to embrace digital services that involve access to ICT gadgets and software. Many developed countries quickly adopted digital platforms as many were commonplace already. While for many developing countries, there is still work to be done to ensure access to these technologies.
In developing countries, access to technology is presumed as a luxury because necessities like food security, education, and health services take precedence. As the Covid19 pandemic affected all nations, the need to get services online for developing countries took centre stage; however, resources allocated to computerisation have always been limited, thus forcing nations to promote access to digital platforms with very few resources.
Access to ICT equipment in developed countries is easy and affordable due to flexible terms of payment and equipment upgrades as many manufacturers have their organisations administered from these countries. There are facilities for ICT equipment upgrades if you procure through defined distributor dealership channels, where the manufacturer will take back the older version, and the client is requested to pay a specific amount of money to get the latest model; therefore, the manufacturer assumes the disposal costs. Warrant and service support for ICT gadgets is generally efficient in developed countries and affordable due to stable financial services and highly equipped industries.
As most developing nations have large proportions of their people living in poverty as defined by daily budget support of USD$1.90 per person, their ability to afford ICT equipment is near impossible. They end up accepting used gadgets from developed countries. These gadgets usually have a short life span resulting in the accumulation of electronic waste
E-waste cannot be disposed of in the same way as other waste products that include plastic, food etc; It requires special equipment that recycles the electronic waste for reuse without contaminating the environment and people. In developed countries, there are companies that are paid to collect electronic waste and facilitate its disposal, which is usually expensive depending on the equipment.
Due to frequent upgrades of electronic devices and their affordability in developed countries, this has resulted in many companies and individuals disposing of their electronic equipment annually; however, some of the equipment will be functional, but due to the fact they can afford a better model, they opt to dispose or recycle.
As electronic waste equipment disposal is expensive, this has increased refurbished equipment sales as companies that collect for disposal end up looking for markets where the equipment can still be used at affordable pricing, which means reduced recycling costs.
As most countries in Africa are developing, they have become the bigger market for refurbished equipment that trickles down from affluent countries. In some instances, some of the equipment is donated to developing nations as they need to connect people at the lowest cost however this means that the disposal costs have been transferred from developed countries to those in need of the donations.
In Africa, a few countries, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa, have established electronic waste management centres due to the costs required to set up the plant and maintain them. Developing nations also lag behind in legislation that may control the dumping of refurbished equipment in the countries as they need access to affordable equipment for their people, who many live in poverty.
Zimbabwe is not spared from this sad development as indeed many raw materials that are used to produce electronic equipment are mined in African countries, Zimbabwe included. However, after the production of the equipment, these nations also bear the environmental and human brunt caused by improper disposal of electronic waste.
We recommend that Zimbabwe create an Internet/Electronic waste recycle fund, which will be used to dispose of electronic waste in the country through relevant organisations and local authorities. It is also important for Zimbabwe to reassess its importation laws to ensure that all refurbished ICT equipment are taxed with the revenue generated channelled towards a recycle fund as has been done on the carbon tax etc.
Organisations that are collecting electronic/internet waste must be given incentives as they play a key role to safeguard people’s health and the environment. The Internet Society of Zimbabwe is currently conducting research on Internet waste management; if you have contributions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Interner Society of Zimbabwe (ISoZ) believes everyone should be able to benefit from an open and trusted Internet. This value forms the pillars of their work.