How E‑waste Can Inject Billions into Kenya’s Economy While Transforming Livelihoods

Last week’s expe­ri­ence at the pres­ti­gious 3rd Africa Inter­na­tion­al eWaste Con­fer­ence host­ed by WEEE Cen­tre in Nairo­bi, where I had the hon­or of speak­ing, has left my mind buzzing with excite­ment and ideas.

Accord­ing to CK Joshua, the Chair­man of East Africa Device Assem­bly Kenya (EADAK), there are 62.9 mil­lion mobile phone devices in Kenya, and notably, the mar­ket absorbs an addi­tion­al 5 mil­lion new devices annu­al­ly. This actu­al­ly means that mil­lions of phones become e‑waste every year. Con­sid­er­ing that one phone has an aver­age of 150 grams, the cumu­la­tive weight of phones is rough­ly 9,320 tonnes, which paves the way for tonnes of e‑waste phones.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the Kenya Nation­al Bureau of Sta­tis­tics reports that Kenya imports 7,000 sec­ond­hand vehi­cles every month. From my expe­ri­ence, nine­ty per­cent of these vehi­cles receive new car audio sys­tems due to sys­tem lan­guage bar­ri­ers and updates, result­ing in at least 6,300 sys­tems, each weigh­ing 1.8 Kgs, being dis­card­ed month­ly. Adding to this e‑waste pile are dis­card­ed toys which on aver­age weigh at 300grams, which based on our mean age are esti­mat­ed to accu­mu­late to an aston­ish­ing 15,100 tones!

Now that we have a sense why we are accu­mu­lat­ing so much e‑waste which is so haz­ardous to our health and envi­ron­ment, let us unearth the eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties inher­ent in e‑waste.

Accord­ing to the IMARC Group, the glob­al e‑waste man­age­ment mar­ket was val­ued at $63.4 bil­lion in 2022 and is pro­ject­ed to grow to $132.5 bil­lion by 2028, dri­ven large­ly by the recov­ery of valu­able mate­ri­als like iron, cop­per, gold, and plas­tics from e‑waste.  For­tu­nate­ly, in Africa, only 1% of elec­tron­ic waste is recy­cled, result­ing in the con­ti­nent hav­ing the low­est rate of for­mal e‑waste recy­cling glob­al­ly and there­in lies our unmatched oppor­tu­ni­ty for green money!

We can learn from Envi­roserve, a lead­ing elec­tron­ics recy­cler, whose Dubai plant process­es e‑waste from 10 coun­tries across the Mid­dle East and Africa. This inno­v­a­tive plant recy­cles up to 98% of mate­ri­als from elec­tron­ic devices into raw mate­ri­als, which are then sold to var­i­ous indus­tries. Inter­est­ing­ly, some of the gold jew­el­ry in The Dubai malls orig­i­nates from recy­cled e‑waste gold. Addi­tion­al­ly, Envi­roserve’s Rwan­da facil­i­ty, which joins WEEE Cen­tre as the only oth­er advanced e‑waste recy­cling plant in East Africa, process­es a sig­nif­i­cant amount of Kenya’s e‑waste. This recy­cling not only yields prof­its but also means that some gold jew­el­ry bought in The Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates by Kenyans may have orig­i­nat­ed from Kenya’s e‑waste.

So how do urgent­ly trans­form this chal­lenge into a lucra­tive opportunity?

First­ly, we need to estab­lish a prac­ti­cal recy­cling infra­struc­ture. I sug­gest sim­pli­fy­ing the process by imple­ment­ing effec­tive pub­lic aware­ness and train­ing pro­grams that define e‑waste in under­stand­able terms for Kenyans. Fol­low­ing this, we should incen­tivize them by offer­ing pay­ment for e‑waste deliv­ered to well-equipped, strate­gi­cal­ly locat­ed col­lec­tion points at the grass­roots lev­el. This approach will also address the sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge posed by car­tels entrenched in the infor­mal sec­tor and exist­ing com­pa­nies and new ones will opti­mize prof­its through increased flow of raw materials.

Sec­ond­ly, I sug­gest that we har­mo­nize our reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work with real­i­ties. Our laws pro­hib­it e‑waste impor­ta­tion, yet import­ed cars often have audio sys­tems replaced upon arrival, effec­tive­ly intro­duc­ing e‑waste. More­over, while we enact­ed the Extend­ed Pro­duc­er Respon­si­bil­i­ty (EPR) law on July 22, 2022, we must also enforce stricter qual­i­ty stan­dards for import­ed prod­ucts. Addi­tion­al­ly, con­sid­er­ing Rwan­da’s suc­cess­ful e‑waste pro­cess­ing imports, we should reeval­u­ate our stance on import­ing e‑waste giv­en its poten­tial val­ue. Even more, bear­ing in mind the haz­ardous waste con­tained in e‑waste and the dan­ger it pos­es to pub­lic health, why not turn some health bud­getary allo­ca­tion to e‑waste management?

Final­ly, if Kenyan uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents from of JKUAT invent­ed a weed-remov­ing robot and won a glob­al Microsoft award, what is so com­pli­cat­ed about trans­fer­ring tech­nol­o­gy, par­tic­u­lar­ly in e‑waste pro­cess­ing? Isn’t that a men­tal block we need to flush out? Each of our 47 coun­ties pos­sess­es suf­fi­cient bud­get and human resources to report suc­cess in e‑waste man­age­ment and cre­ate jobs. Think green, act green!




About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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