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Date: 2010-08-30 10:31:45

The rapid growth in Information Communication Technology (ICT) has led to an improvement in the capacity of computers but simultaneously to a decrease in the products’ lifetime as a result of which increasingly large quantities of waste electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) are generated annually.
Experts the world over say it is the rate at which we ‘consume’ electronic gadgets that is worsening the e-waste issue.  For example, the average mobile phone is built to last a minimum of 5 years, but with the rate of updates and new models emerging, most consumers are more likely to get new phones every two years. The situation is not different when it comes to computers, cameras, televisions, etc.That is why some of these technologies become obsolete and the end products (junks) known as e-waste are left in its trail.
This article takes a close look at e-waste recycling as an alternative to dumping obsolete electronics in the developed countries; the option in third world countries with emphasis on the prevailing situation in Nigeria.
Currently there is a trans-oceanic e-trade from US to countries like India, Pakistan and especially China where there is little or no environmental restrictions with high level of poverty. Up to 80% of electronic waste meant for recycling is quietly exported to such poverty stricken countries.
Environmental studies carried out have exposed the mountains of e-waste that show up on the doorstep of developing countries at the expense of people and the environment. The poorest people, in many cases children, are put to work breaking apart TVs, mobile phones, computer games and other electronic items that arrive in their tonnes. With no safety measures, they are exposed to highly toxic chemicals.
Up to 38 separate chemical elements are contained in electronic waste items. Substances in bulk quantity include epoxy resins, fibre glass, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and thermosetting plastics.
Elements in bulk are lead, tin, copper, silicon, beryllium, carbon, iron and aluminum while those in small amounts are cadmium, mercury, and thallium. Elements in trace amount are Americium, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, europium, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, lithium, manganese, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, silver, tantalum, terbium, thorium, titanium, vanadium, and yttrium.

In the face of the failed effort at e-waste management, the big business in trade from the US to China (the world’s largest import of e-waste) is booming. China in turn dismantles, recouples and “flushes” the products into the Nigerian market.
This dark side of Nigeria’s information technology sector is both evident at the Ikeja Computer Village, Lagos, where imported used electronics are repaired and sold. “Up to 75% of the electronics shipped to the Computer Village are irreparable junk” according to the Computer and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria, a local industry group.
Nigeria has a thriving repair market, but no capacity to safely deal with electronic waste, most of which winds up in landfills and informal dumps.
 As electronic equipment, of every kind, becomes more and more a part of our day-to-day lives, we need to make recycling electronic waste a top priority. Here are just some of the reasons why this option is a must:
•    Unfortunately, for decades this toxic e-waste has filled our landfill sites, leaching dangerous metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury into the surrounding soil, groundwater and ultimately ending up in humans. The health effects of such heavy metals in humans can be devastating. Research shows tumours, mental health disorders and cancer as just some of the resultant effects.
•    Landfill is not the only issue caused by lack of recycling, it is reported that Australia has been exporting increasingly large amounts of e-waste to China, India and other Asian countries, estimated to be worth about $20 million a year. Tragically,the recycling conditions in these countries are often sub-standard resulting in innocent adults and children being exposed to harmful toxins.
•    On the upside, recycling e-waste not only diverts toxic metals from landfill but it also means many valuable materials can be reused. Recycling reduces the amount of waste as well as the mining of raw materials – in essence, recycling is “above ground mining”.
•    According to the Environment, Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC), Australia, if 75% of the 1.5 million televisions that are discarded annually were recycled, this would amount to a national saving of approximately 23,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents, 520 mega litres of water, 400,000 gigajoules of energy and 160,000 cubic metres of landfill space.
•    Creating secondary raw materials, ie recycling, results in huge energy savings compared to creating primary raw materials. For example, recycling steel into a secondary raw material uses 74% less energy than the production of the primary product. Recycled Aluminium uses 95% less, Copper 85% less, Lead 65% less and Plastics 80% less – it’s a win, win, win scenario – we protect precious resources, divert usable materials from landfill and conserve energy all at the same time!
In response to the growing need to safely manage obsolete electronic equipment and promote product-focused resource recovery strategies, western governments are working towards putting regulations in place to tackle the problem of e-waste. For example, several major brand owners of electronic products are committed by legislation to develop finance and administer the diversion of e-waste from disposal by ensuring that it is properly recycled. This concept is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). It places responsibility on producers to properly manage their products at the post-consumer stage.
EPR has turned out to be the most popular e-waste management strategy the world over, because it has a potential to stimulate producers to design longer-lasting, less hazardous and more recyclable products. The programme is already being used to produce end products such as used oil, batteries, beverage containers, scrap tires etc.
In the United States, the Iowa citizens, Local Governments, business, Industry have proactively worked together to protect Iowa’s environment by reducing waste (e-waste and others), recycling, manufacturing recycled goods and buying recycled-content products. This cooperate effort has built an impressive recycling industry that create and retain jobs and businesses.

In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, electronics and electrical equipment of all kinds- from computers to food processors to cell phones to nail guns are on a new list issued by the Government of Ontario that could be kept out of land fills and diverted into a special program. Many manufacturers and retail stores have taken steps to provide an easy, convenient opportunity for people to get their electronics out of the waste stream into the recycling stream.                        

Unfortunately, there is no place in the country where e-waste recycling is being carried out. The average Nigerian does not even have an idea of e-waste as a major source of toxins and carcinogens.
In Nigeria today, many people repair their faulty outdated electronics (e.g. cell phones) rather than discard and replace them with new ones. This is evident in the fact that hardly will one see obsolete cell phones dumped in the incinerators.
 The so called “GSM Engineers”at Ikeja Computer village, Alaba Computer Village,Nnewi and Onitsha markets e.t.c who dismantle these cell phones with bare hands in the name of “repairs”are ignorant of the dangerous consequences of repeated close exposure to the toxic chemicals from these electronics.
The most threatening case scenario is the creation of an “import free zone” in the country by some foreign governments in collaboration with unpatriotic Nigerian business men. Recently, a ship load of e-waste was intercepted at the Lagos wharf. The waste is imported into the country with impurity all in the name of business. Only God knows how many of such cargoes scaled through the interland.
As the danger of components of e-waste and the creation of  “dumping sites” in the country stare us in the face,there is need to create awareness and erect regulatory framework to forestall the impending time bomb as encapsulated in e-waste syndrome. The government should make it a deliberate policy to initiate and embark on en-masse public sensitization programme to educate the populace of the danger of the menace and promote recycling as an option.
The Federal Government should constitute a Technical Committee with members drawn from relevant agencies like National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Institute of Chartered Chemists of Nigeria (ICCON), National Agency for Food & Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) etc for the formulation and enactment of legislation for proper control and regulation of e-waste. While the efforts of foremost chemists like Hon. Akinyugha and others towards legislation for proper regulation of chemicals via the proposed National Chemical Waste Management Commission deserves commendation, the regulation of e-waste should be integrated into the legal document.
The Government should also make a deliberate effort at working out modalities that would promote recycling as alternative option, as well as partner with brand owners and manufacturers for the more popular manufacturer take-back programmes.
The Nigerian government has set up a National development plan to take the country out of the woods. The country’s economic blueprint is tagged “VISION 2020”.It is directed at repositioning the country as one of the 20 biggest economies in the world by the year 2020 and this is very much on course; the target year, 2015 for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)- the global initiative for the eradication of poverty is by the corner. If Nigeria is to realize these set goals, then there is need to take necessary steps to checkmate the menace of e-waste and safeguard the health of the citizenry.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure! 


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