Tanzania grapples with e-waste management

09Apr 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Tanzania grapples with e-waste management

THE number of Tanzanians suffering from cancer, respiratory illnesses and reproductive problems is likely to shoot up as a result of poor management of waste in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), or e-waste, it has been revealed.

used computers

Most EEE contain hazardous materials, most of which are likely to cause cancer, respiratory illnesses and reproductive problems.

Projections based on the results of an inventory undertaken by the Cleaner Production Centre of Tanzania (CPCT) in 2011 show that the amount of e-waste generated from computers alone was about 2,300 tonnes annually, indicating that the amount of e-waste currently being generated in the country is in the range of 18,000 to 33,000 tonnes annually.

The average life span of new computers was found to be four years in government and the private sector, and eight years in private households and small businesses, while the average life of second-hand computers was found to be around five years.

Based on the results of this survey and some key development statistics for Tanzania, it was estimated that about 200,000 computer units reached their end-of-life in 2009.

Since there are no formal schemes for management of e-waste in the country, existing crude dumpsites are commonly used for the disposal of e-waste, resulting in mixing e-waste and municipal waste, accentuating risk to both public health and the environment.

A 2009 report by the University of Dar es Salaam says a significant portion of e-waste remains stockpiled in garages, warehouses, offices and other forms of storage for possible future use or resale due to the absence of a formal collection scheme for e-waste.

Another report by the Confederation of Tanzania Industries (CTI) in 2008 says it is estimated that between 30 and 40 per cent of EEE in the local market are counterfeits. According to CPTC, in 2010 a total of about 53 tonnes of counterfeit EEE were seized and disposed of.

“These products were crushed and burnt haphazardly in dumpsites,” says CPCT in its report, adding that uncontrolled importation of used EEE plays a role in escalating the volume of e-waste due to their relatively short span, with some of them being substandard, near end-of-life or non-functional.

“Considering the fact that the current disposal practice of e-waste in the country is mainly storage, this implies that there will soon be an increasing growth of e-waste in the country as more and more ICT equipment reaches their end-of-life,” says the report. Unfortunately, the growing volume of e-waste does not match the country’s available capacity to manage them in an environmentally sound manner.

Matthew Haden, an expert in waste recycling, says most of e-waste just ends up in the dumpsite where toxic substances can leak into the groundwater. “E-waste is very diverse.

There are a lot of different types from batteries to cellphones to refrigerators. Some items require more complicated processes than others,” he says.

However, says Haden, a good start is to have a facility that takes the items apart in a safe environment and export them to different companies that use them as raw material. He says his recycling firm called The Recycler is working with a couple other local companies in Tanzania to look into setting up an e-waste management facility.

“It is not something that we specialize in, so we are looking for partners,” he adds. However, Issaria Mangalili, a principal environmental officer in the Vice-President's Office, says the government is taking a number of actions aimed at addressing e-waste management, including putting in place specific regulations for the management of EEE waste. He says the main objective of these regulations is to provide for and promote proper management of e-waste to protect human health and the environment.

He says in September 2015, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) established a national steering committee (NSC) for providing guidance on the management of e-waste in the country.

Contacted for comment, TCRA Manager for Corporate Communications Innocent Mungy said the NSC was following up with the ministry responsible for environment on a review of the National Environment Policy of 1997 in order to incorporate emerging issues including e-waste management.

Asked about how TCRA planned to dispose of fake mobile phone handsets after they are switched off in June, this year, Mungy said TCRA was working closely with the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) to provide guidance on the disposal of the devices. He said an analysis done in February, this year, revealed that the number of fake mobile devices in the country was about 1,800,000.

“As ongoing public awareness takes root the number is expected to decrease as customers replace their phones,” he said, adding that the next analysis will be done next month to determine the situation before the cut-off date in mid-June.

The Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) was making preparations of e-waste standards in Tanzania, said Mungy.