Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria and the rest of Africa may soon begin to grapple with a different layer of complicated health issues unless governments rise up to the mounting electronic waste (e-waste) on the continent.
Latest findings indicate that, while Nigerians generate e-Waste owing to various unused electronic materials, developed countries, including Germany, China, United Kingdom, Belgium and the United States of America still ship huge tones of e-Waste into Africa.
The Guardian gathered that Nigeria generated 461.3-kilo tonnes (KT) in 2019 to rank the highest in West Africa and second after Egypt on the continent. The 461.3kt amounts to $166, 060, 000 (N64.2 billion).
Specifically, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nation’s arm in charge of global telecommunications, noted that approximately 60,000 to71,000 t of used electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) were imported yearly into Nigeria through the two main ports in Lagos since 2015.
While this importation lasted in Nigeria, ITU noted that specific e-Waste legislation on the management of it is still lacking in most African countries. According to it, few countries have legislation published in Africa, these include Egypt, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire. However, it said enforcing the legislation is very challenging.
Findings revealed that components of e-Waste include large household appliances (42 per cent); IT communications technology (34 per cent); consumer electronics (14 per cent), while others account for 10 per cent. The Guardian, however, gathered that in Nigeria, the largest form of e-Waste, which is a computer and its accessories, constitute about 60 per cent, while mobile devices follow with 25 per cent. Others like photocopiers and other office equipment account for the remaining 15 per cent.
The ITU, in its Global E-waste Monitor 2020, said e-Waste rose by 21 per cent in the last five years, with a record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt). It noted that e-Waste discarded products, including a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones generated, went up 9.2 Mt in five years as of 2019.
The new report also predicts global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost double the 2014 figure, fuelled by higher electric and electronic consumption rates, shorter lifecycles and limited repair options.
According to ITU, Africa generated 2.9 Mt as of 2019. Americas 13.1 Mt, Europe 12 Mt, Asia 24.9 Mt, and Oceania 0.7 Mt.
Further analysis showed that, in West Africa, Nigeria was highest; Ghana came second with 52.9kt, and Cote d’Ivoire third with 30kt. In East Africa, Ethiopia led with 58.3kt; followed by Kenya 51.2kt and Tanzania at 50.2kt. In the north, Egypt led with 585.8kt followed by Algeria 308.6kt and Morocco 164.5kt.
South Africa led the Southern region with 415.5kt, followed by Botswana 18.8kt, and Namibia is third with 15.7kt.
The report noted that, since 2017, the number of studies on the adverse health effects from e-Waste had increased. It stressed that studies had continued to highlight dangers to human health from exposure to well-studied toxins, such as lead.
ITU said research had found that unregulated e-Waste recycling was associated with increasing numbers of adverse health effects. The effects include adverse birth outcomes, altered neurodevelopment, adverse cardiovascular effects, adverse respiratory effects, and adverse effects on the immune system, skin diseases, hearing loss, and cancer.
The report said adults and children could be exposed by inhaling toxic fumes and particulate matter, through skin contact with corrosive agents and chemicals, and by ingesting contaminated food and water.
According to the UN body, some hazardous chemicals can be passed from mothers to children during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Speaking with The Guardian, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development, Lagos State University (LASU), Dr. Micheal Ahove, said e-Waste was extremely more dangerous than what could be imagined.
Ahove, described e-Waste as electronic materials that users no longer consider valuable for continuous use or they no longer derived expected benefit from it. He stressed the issue came to the fore based on individualistic perception.
“For instance, I can say this laptop is no more useful to me, but it is a raw material to someone else, another person can say I will recycle it, and fundamentally, it is individualistic,” he stated.
Corroborating the report, Ahove said the impact of e-Waste was huge on human health and the environment. “First, in our waterways as perceived, especially in Nigeria, it degrades our water. Our waterways are currently being polluted by lead substances. If you moved around Alaba, Orile, Ajeromi Ifelodun, Ojo, you will find so many of our e-Waste dumped on the ground, and as these decompose, they permeate through the land, while some go to the freshwater. Remember also when rain falls on the ground, it washes away particles and poisonous substances, including mercury, Cainium, among others, which flow to our waters that people drink. This is a serious matter in Lagos, and parts of Ogun.
“The second case is the exposure of individuals, who interact with these materials, which contain carcinogenic substances and affect our health. Also, at the dumpsite, various hazards loom. From the interviews we have conducted, we found some of the solubles very toxic. We have poisonous substances like chlorinated cells, which contain huge chloride, we have dioxine, among others. Remember when Olusosun dumpsite was burnt, the odour was poisonous and choking. So, many people in that axis developed all kinds of sicknesses; it was until some of them left that environment that their health improved,” he stated.
He revealed that a study carried out by some of his group, showed there were e-Waste particles in vegetables people consume. “For instance, along LASU axis, we discovered it. Also in fish, soil, water and they are risky. Some people claimed to have seen it in urine and shockingly in breast milk.”
Ahove, who said the worth of e-Waste generated in Nigeria runs into billions, informed that “when people come to a street, especially those Hausa boys, they collect some scraps and sell them to some companies. “There is recycling in Nigeria, but locally. But what we have not done is to develop a systemic arrangement of monitoring those who are involved in it, which is very important. These are good sources of economic upliftment for the people if well harnessed. These people need to be educated, trained and supported for them to do their jobs well. It will bring less danger to the public.’’
Already, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said children were especially vulnerable to the health risks posed by e-Waste exposure and, therefore, need more specific protection.
WHO noted that as they are still growing, children’s intake of air, water and food in proportion to their weight is significantly increased compared to adults, – and with that, the risk of hazardous chemical absorption.
Breaking down the 461.3kt into value, the Chief Executive Officer, E-Terra Technologies Limited, a private end-to-end electronic waste management company in Lagos, Dr. Ifeanyi Ochonogor, said “1mt equals 2,000Ib.Therefore, 461,300mt = 922,600,000Ib.1 scrap computer currently cost $0.18. Therefore, 922,600,000Ib of scrap computer is worth $166,068,000. So, 461.3k of e-waste appears to be worth $166,060,000.” With a population of over 200m people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country.
Ochonogor said in a country considered one of the poorest in Africa, over 90 per cent of its citizens own and use electric and electronic devices.
“Unfortunately, most of these technology gadgets used by Nigerians are either obsolete or near end of life (popularly called Tokunbo), which naturally means they will not last long before being discarded by users.
“Furthermore, because most Nigerians cannot afford new electric and electronic appliances, it has become a dumping ground for all manner of fairly used electric and electronic gadgets often imported into the country by dealers and repairers operating in Alaba and Computer village in Lagos State. This explains the huge proliferation of e-Waste in Nigeria.”
According to the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, the cost of recycling is huge.
Teniola disclosed that there are very few companies involved in the processing of electronic equipment and ensuring the proper breaking down of the components and ensure proper disposal.
“The cost of the machinery required to do this is expensive and there is a need for banks located in strategic points like Lagos or Kano to ensure that e-Waste produced is safe, disposed and recycled correctly and according to international standards. We have several members of ATCON that engage a local e-Waste processing company that adopts international standards concerning the safe disposal of electronic equipment, however, they are just starting up and require the necessary government support to scale up and increase their impact,” he stated.
Explaining further, Teniola said the demand for second-hand electronic devices is on the increase in Nigeria and these devices are almost in most cases approaching End of Life (EOL) and once they do contribute to the sudden increase in the waste of EEE as they are, they are then required to be properly recycled to ensure they are discarded to avoid being a hazard to the environment and a danger to Nigerian citizens.’
Quantifying the value of the 461.3Kt generated in Nigeria, the ATCON President, said according to UN figures, “it would suggest that the price of e-Waste per kilo is greater than the price of the equivalent in Gold.”
Teniola on weak e-Waste legislation in Nigeria noted that there appears to be an e-Waste market in Africa and the trade involves countries in the West, where most of the second-hand computers, phones and electronic devices are shipped in for sale in various computer markets along the coast of West Africa, with Nigeria hosting the largest market that trades in the purchasing and selling of this electronic and electrical equipment.
The ATCON President, who took on the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), said: “the issue isn’t with the secondary market but that the SON can curtail the presence of substandard electrical and electronic equipment in the market. The real challenge appears to be what happens to the equipment when they reach the end of life. Simply having legislation without enforcement will create the environmental problem that the e-Waste creates when left to be handled by the informal sector.”
President, Phone and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria (PAPDAN), Ifeanyi Akubue, said e-Waste was still a major issue in Lagos, “but there are people who buy scraps from Computer Village, and later resell them to some companies for recycling.’’
Public Relations Officer, Computer and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), Ademola Olaifa, said that, although there were several dumping centres in Ikeja, Agege, and others, Computer Village market remained the largest source of e-waste. He said a lot of awareness was going on, especially on the hazardous nature of some of the components.
Olaifa said Computer Village market management does not allow the dumping of e-Waste in the market but permits individuals and companies to pick them for recycling.
He revealed that assorted IT items were brought into the market, “some, the owners intentionally leave them there when they could not get them fixed. This has become a source of revenue for those who recycle. E-waste is a big business, people are aware of the financial implications involved.’’
Olaifa, said the US, UK, Ireland, China and others still ship e-Waste through some of the gadgets which lifespan expires by the time they get to Nigeria, “because no other country would take them, the reason e-Waste is huge in the country.”