More effort is needed to manage electrical, electronic waste

14Dec 2021
Geoffrey Nangai
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
More effort is needed to manage electrical, electronic waste

NASSOR Said, a resident of Sinza, Dar es Salaam Region, ventured into his father’s scrap metals and Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULABs) business at a tender age to make ends meet after failing to continue with education.

A stockpile of used lead batteries. Inappropriate recycling operations release considerable amounts of lead particles and fumes emitted into the air, deposited onto soil, water bodies and other surfaces with both environmental and human health risks. Photo/ Correspondent Geoffrey Nangai

He now sells used lead acid batteries, a booming business that however has many environmental and health risks.

“I had no choice but to work with my father so as to get money and meet my basic needs. We buy and sell scrap metals and used batteries. For the used batteries however, we are supposed to break them into pieces and remove the acid inside because buyers want the actual weight of the battery waste without the acid inside,” he narrated during an interview recently.

A spot survey conducted in Dar es Salaam by this paper last week established that used lead acid batteries fetch between 1,000/- to 1,300/- per kilogrammes, depending on the location.

Said added that they keep the acid in empty containers in anticipation of potential customers who use the chemical as cleaning detergent for stubborn stains.

“We store the used acid in empty containers for as long as we can until customers show up. It has never caused physical damage because we handle the waste with care,” he added.

Abdulrazak Mwenge, a mechanic in Manzese, Dar es Salaam said that most mechanics use acid from the batteries to clean various motor vehicle parts.

He however admitted that most of the time, the chemical is handled without use of proper Preventive Protective Equipment (PPE) gears like hard gloves, glasses and boots.

“While using the used acid to clean various car parts, the most important thing is to ensure that the acid does not get into contact with our eyes. We have not had any major accidents apart from the usual damage of clothes,” he said.

Lead-acid batteries are widely used in many African countries including Tanzania to power everything from cars to telecommunication equipment to backup electrical systems. These batteries however reach the end of their lifespan and lack of efforts to recycle them cause widespread environmental contamination while posing a high risk for both human health and the environment in many countries.

As most African countries lack adequate recycling facilities, many unlicensed battery re-conditioners and illegal recyclers of used lead-acid batteries have come up.

A recent study estimates that there are between 10,599 to 29,241 informal lead-acid battery-processing sites where human health is at risk. The 90-country study found that informal lead-acid battery processing sites put the health of as many as 16.8 million people at risk in 2013 alone.

Approximately 86 per cent of the total global consumption of lead is for the production of lead-acid batteries mainly used in motorised vehicles, storage of energy generated by photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, and for back-up power supplies.

According to the WHO, the increasing demand for motor vehicles as countries undergo economic development and growth in the use of renewable energy sources with the need for storage batteries is directly proportional to the increasing demand for lead-acid batteries .The batteries contain large amount of lead either as solid metal or lead-oxide powder.

An average battery can contain up to 10 kilogrammes of lead. Recycled lead is a valuable commodity for many people in the developing world, making the recovery of car batteries known as Waste Lead-Acid Batteries (WLAB) or Used Lead-Acid Batteries (ULAB)] a viable and profitable business, which is practised in both formal and informal sectors globally.

In many Low Developed Countries (LDCs) ULAB recycling and smelting operations are conducted in the open, in densely populated urban areas, and often with few (if any) pollution controls. Inappropriate recycling operations release considerable amounts of lead particles and fumes emitted into the air, deposited onto soil, water bodies and other surfaces, with both environment and human health negative impacts.

The limited number of job opportunities in the formal sectors in Tanzania has made youth explore other options available like engagement in hazardous waste management for scrap metals and Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULABs) to make ends meet.

 It’s against this backdrop that hazardous waste management Non-Governmental Organization Pure Earth organized a workshop on Sustainable and Environmentally Sound Solutions for the ULABs in Tanzania sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme in Dar es Salaam mid-week that brought together various e-waste stakeholders from both formal and informal sector to discuss sustainable e-waste management practices.

Environment stakeholders however need the government to harmonise hazardous waste management policies across various sectors to ensure long-term environmental sustainability in line with the Basel Convention.

The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted by Tanzania in 2002 and went into force on December 12, 2019. It establishes a framework for control over the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes.

Speaking during the workshop, Pure Earth Country Coordinator, Abdallah Mkindi, said there is need for the government to intensify hazardous waste management so as to ensure safety of the people and environment.

“The workshop has been a good platform for e-waste management practitioners to share their experiences. Safety remains a major challenge in the aspect of e-waste management especially in the informal sector so there is a need to ensure proper use of PPEs for the safety of all those involved,” he said.

Mkindi argued that all stakeholders including manufactures and importers of electronic equipment have a role to play in ensuring sustainability of the environment.

“We have the laws as a policy guideline by which the government should work around the clock to ensure the application of the best practice in hazardous waste management,” he said.

Daniel Sabai, Senior Lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, said disposal of used lead acid batteries remains a major challenge in Tanzania.

“Battery electrolytes contain sulphuric acid which is classified as a hazardous waste that can affect the health of those who get into contact with it. Statistics show that it also has negative impacts on the environment,” he said.

Sabai noted that there is a need to identify the risks posed by used lead acid batteries, analyse the extent of their risks and if possible, come up with mitigation measures.

He noted that there is need for surveillance of the entire used lead acid batteries cycle to check health, safety and environmental compliance in accordance with Tanzania’s laws.

“There is a need to prepare and implement a comprehensive lead risk reduction strategy that should include a legislative framework for hazardous waste management, occupational health and safety, provision of licensing and monitoring, social responsibility and public awareness among other things,” he said.

Sabai added that importers should be responsible for ensuring that electrolyte is not dumped into the environment.

He advised that the country should adopt a strategy to transfer the risks by exporting the recycling process of the hazardous waste to another country.

Other stakeholders appealed to the government to adopt Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) concept of WLABs management as stipulated in the Bamako Convention.

 Tanzania is one of the 24 African countries that have since ratified the Bamako Convention which came into force in 1998 and prohibits the importation of any hazardous (including radioactive) waste into Africa.

According to Gideon Chilambo, Managing Director at Chilambo General Trade Company, improper disposal of waste lead acid batteries poses huge health and environmental risks to the country.

Chilambo noted that telecommunication companies in the country are the biggest producers of waste lead acid batteries which are used at the telecommunications towers.

“Waste lead acid batteries are imported in the country but we do not have the capacity to manage their waste as a nation; we do not have the capacity to dispose of these types of wastes and the process to return them to respective manufactures in Europe and Asian countries is cumbersome. Worse still, the budget needed to export this kind of waste is so huge,” he said.

He noted that his company which is located in Kisarawe Industrial park in Coast Region is presently stranded with 80 tonnes of waste lithium batteries at its yard, adding that exporting one tonne of such waste requires around 500 euros (approximately 13.3m/-).

“The worst part is that these waste lithium batteries are highly flammable if exposed to high temperatures. This not only puts the risks to those engaged in the waste management process but also puts the lives of the general public at stake,” he added.

The National Environment Management Council (NEMC) Enforcement Manager Jamal Baruti said that the Environmental Management (Control and Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste) regulations gazette number 388 of May 14, 2021 addresses the issue of electrical and electronic waste.

“The regulation to ensure that management and disposal of electronic devices from individual to company level is already in place.  We will closely work with all the relevant authorities including the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) to ensure compliance of the regulation,” he said.