Thursday, July 10, 2008

Business Daily Africa Story

Tackling the electronic waste menace
Written by Achim Steiner
Achim Steiner
July 3, 2008: A new report by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, supported by Unep, and The Climate Group estimates that ICT could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent globally by 2020.

Firstly by contributing to energy efficiency in buildings up to the automobile industry, and also by what is known as dematerialisation (or substitution) of existing physical goods and processes.

But the rapid growth and also rapid redundancy of ICT equipment also represents a major challenge to the international community in terms of human health and the environment.

An estimated 20 to 50 million tonnes of electronics waste is generated annually which, according to one estimate, if loaded on railway trucks would produce a train that would stretch once around the world. The growth in electronics is unlikely to abate any time soon, especially as disposable incomes rise in the rapidly developing economies.

Thus, it represents a major challenge to the work of Unep. There are reasons for optimism, however. Many developed countries have established take-back; refurbishment and recycling schemes and in turn are generating profits and new kinds of green jobs.

Similar developments are also occurring in many developing countries. We must take forward the Nairobi declaration on the environmentally sound management of electronic and electrical wastes via the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment.

Long distance dumping
The detailed work plan is expected to include developing guidelines and orchestrating activities in the areas of environmentally-sound refurbishment and repair of electronic equipment including criteria for testing, certification and labelling.

Indeed, the focus on e-waste at the Basel Convention in Nairobi in 2006 generated a great deal of interest. I am happy that the parties to the convention sent a clear and unequivocal message that the international community will no longer tolerate the kind of toxic waste dumping that occurred in Cote D’Ivoire and which also captured our attention in 2006. In 2006 the spotlight fell on shipments of e-waste in Lagos, Nigeria.

Shortly afterwards evidence emerged of similar shipments coming into East Africa through the port of Mombasa with some ending up in the Dandora dump site in Nairobi. Some of the shipments contain usable electronics but often they can be mixed with a great deal of dud and even obsolete equipment including items such as old Commodore games consuls.

This is effectively long distance dumping. It must be stopped.

Steiner is Unep’s executive director.

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