Thursday, April 9, 2009


National policy on e-waste

The decision of the Federal Government to formulate a national policy on electronic (e)-waste management, though long overdue, signifies government's readiness to address growing concern over health and environmental hazards posed by the indiscriminate importation of used electrical/electronics by unscrupulous Nigerian businessmen into the country. As part of the process to develop a national policy framework for addressing the problems of e-waste, the Federal Government had convened a sensitisation workshop in 2008 where e-waste was identified as the fastest growing waste stream in the world. While government was still procrastinating on the menace, Greenpeace, a global environmental advocacy group, released a statement in February which declared that "Nigeria is one of many destinations for the developed world's toxic e-waste."
Since then, a flurry of activities designed to meet the damaging revelation head-on have been ongoing; the latest being a so-called stakeholders meeting in Abuja last month. Dr. Ngeri Benebo, director general of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Nesrea), told the audience at the meeting that the Federal Government has initiated a number of actions to combat the scourge of e-waste dumping in the country including the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee on e-waste management to proffer lasting solutions to the problem. Before the meeting, Nesrea had raised alarm over the dumping of e-waste at the Alaba International Market in Lagos.
Investigations by the body had also revealed that the problem was traceable to the large influx of second hand electronic/electrical equipment into the country. It is for this reason that the new national policy on e-waste management which, when operational, will restrict the importation of certain categories of second-hand electronic equipment into the country. According to Dr. Benebo, "all imports of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE) that qualify as WEE under the Basel Convention including those identified by the national definitions in Nigeria could be prohibited. Nigeria can impose additional requirements regarding age and packaging in order to ensure that the material sent into the country as second hand electrical/electronic goods are not hazardous wastes."
It is inexcusable that nearly two years after the Basel Action Network, a pressure group that monitors the trade in hazardous waste, published a report which claimed that some 500 containers with 400,000 second-hand computers were unloaded every month in Lagos ports, the government has yet to establish sound legal and regulatory framework capable of putting a stop to the odious practice. Although Article 2(1) of the Basel Convention on the Control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal did not give a universal definition of waste by describing it as "substances or objects which are disposed of or are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law, Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia proffers a more detailed definition of e-waste as "all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as TVs and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners."
Dr. Benebo is right in describing e-waste as an emerging hazardous waste issue in Africa with absence of national infrastructure to recycle the materials as well as legislation to regulate the sector. The national policy on e-waste management should fill this gap for Nigeria. It should ensure that the incidence of dumping of e-waste from the developed countries is minimised to the barest minimum if not eradicated.
Successful implementation of the policy would, however, require the support of Nigerians because the ravishing poverty afflicting a vast majority of the citizenry means that most Nigerians cannot afford brand new products. More importantly, the requisite equipment that can aid detection must be procured while the officials who will be deployed to the borders are also given the necessary training.
The need for Nigeria to take these steps cannot be over-emphasised. For instance, when a chartered toxic-laden ship tried to offload its slops in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2006, the Amsterdam Port Services recognised its contents as toxic and consequently denied the crew of the ship the request for berthing at the Amsterdam port. Nigeria must put in place structures that are able to reduce the entry of e-waste and toxic waste to the barest minimum. As Greenpeace discovered, the days when Western electronic companies shipped toxic waste to poor countries are by no means over. This is why government agencies saddled with the responsibility of checking the trade in hazardous waste from Europe to developing countries like Nigeria must be vigilant.
The world's waterways are still filled with ships looking to unload toxic waste in vulnerable countries. The latest dimension to dumping of hazardous waste which consists of the dumping of unwanted mobile phones, computers and printers, which contain cadmium, lead, mercury and other poisons means that target countries must ensure that the dangerous wastes are not allowed on their territories.
Because millions of computers become obsolete in the developed world every year, the menace of hazardous waste to the African continent remains potent and real. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that worldwide, 20 million to 50 million tonnes of electronics are discarded each year. Less than 10 per cent gets recycled and half or more ends up overseas. As Western technology becomes cheaper and the latest machine comes to be regarded as a disposable fashion statement, this dumping will only intensify.
The public should also be educated on the dangers of burning damaged or disused electronics because improper disposal of e-waste can release hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment, making certain areas toxic.

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