It seems the world’s growing appetite for electrical and electronic products, combined with rapid innovation and ever-shorter product lifespans, is insatiable.
E-waste has now become one of the fastest growing waste streams. Illegal and poorly managed e-waste is polluting the environment, harming human health, and contributing towards the planet’s vulnerability to climate change.
In Nairobi County, Kevin Omondi a garbage collector in Pumwani is part of a group that is seeking to address this e-waste menace.
Every morning, Kevin and his crew go around the community collecting garbage: plastics, bags and metals that is taken to landfills, dumpsites and if it can be recycled. They have also discovered another type of recyclable trash: electronic waste (e-waste).
Initially, they had little knowledge on how to deal with e-waste. After training sessions with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) center, the National Environment Management Authority and Safaricom, they now know what to do.
“We used to get keyboards, parts of computers, phones and other electronics but we didn’t know what to do with them. We used to dispose most of them. After knowing there are people who are actually concerned with e-waste, we now collect them, select what we can use and let the people who recycle them come and collect the rest,” says Kevin.
It is estimated that Kenya is currently generating about 51.3 thousand tons of e-waste annually.
About 20 per cent of e-waste is properly recycled, with the rest dumped in landfills, burned, or illegally traded and informally recycled in a sub-standard way, a contributor of waste and pollution to the environment shows the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP). E-waste in landfill contaminates soil and groundwater, putting food supply systems and water sources at risk.
The WEEE center located in Embakasi, Nairobi has been collecting and recycling e-waste since its inception in 2015. The center amplifies efforts by Kevin and his team by recycling e-waste at a larger scale.
According to WEEE’s Chief Executive Officer, Boniface Mbithi, e-waste is increasing each day as more people acquire electronic gadgets.
“We now have our grandmothers using solar lights, panels and battery-powered gadgets. But, once they are done with the items, where do they dispose them? Now more than ever people have more phones, laptops, but where do they take them once they don’t need them anymore?” Mr. Mbithi poses.
A timely discussion as world leaders are meeting in Scotland Glasgow, UK for the global climate conference—COP26—the next annual UN climate change conference in a bid to rein in the runaway climate change, including environmental pollutants such as e-waste.
Watch this video of Kevin and his team on how to manage your old electronics.