Waste management has been a growing concern in some parts of the world in the past few years and Zimbabwe has not been spared.
There has been lack of sustainable waste management’s policy, plans and strategies, hence our failure to have clean cities.
E-waste is one of the largest environmental problems that Zimbabwe is facing especially in the city of Harare.
The Sunshine City has been converted into a dirty village. The ruling Zanu PF blames the opposition Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) for failing to address Harare City Council’s waste management problems.
At the same time, CCC blames Zanu PF for looting funds meant for waste management. The amount of electronics waste that is being disposed of each year is not fully quantified.
I believe there is a strong link between e-waste and the ever-accelerating climate change. Advancements in technology exacerbate the problem with a myriad of new products.
Proper e-waste management can also provide economic benefits.
E-waste contains valuable metals such as copper, gold and silver, which can be recovered through recycling.
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Recycling and proper disposal of e-waste can create jobs and boost local economies. When talking about e-waste, one should think of items large or small, from an outdated video game that can be found in the back of a drawer, dysfunctional television sets, radios and other electric consumables that people change from time to time.
Walking through one of Harare’s oldest and busiest high density suburbs Mbare, I noticed that there is a need for a proper e-waste management system.
Mbare is littered with old radios, cassettes and old household equipment, among other things.
But these can be properly processed since they have reusable material to avoid a toxic toll on mother earth.
It is disheartening to note that municipalities have failed to establish e-waste management systems and so far it looks like they are not even dreaming of it. E-waste management is a big business in developed countries where they recycle material and make other products that can be sold.
Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, which attempts to track the amount of e-waste in the world posits that e-waste has six categories: temperature-exchange equipment (refrigerators, air conditioners), screens and monitors, lamps, large equipment (washing machines, copiers), small equipment (cameras, smart speakers), and small IT and telecommunications equipment (phones, routers).
So much fits in these categories, and so much of it overwhelms landfills.
The current state of e-waste in Zimbabwe and some parts of Africa is incalculable, because it is undocumented.
Electronics are embedded in every facet of our lives, but they have short life cycles. And when the time comes to replace a product, it is rarely disposed of in a way that would limit its impact on the environment, despite the fact that 71% of the world’s population is governed by some form of e-waste legislation.
When the need to dispose of these materials arises, most people choose the simplest way to solve their immediate problem; randomly throwing and dumping anywhere.
This is mainly due to the unavailability of areas designed to dispose of these.
This destroys the natural beauty of the environment. Recycling plastics has caused implacable damage, and adding electronic gadgets like cell phones, chargers, computers, and other gadgets into the mix is overwhelming.
So, the amount of electronics that sit in towering piles of trash is simply unknown.
The best way is to embark on e-waste management especially through edutainment. The latest report from the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership calculates that in 2021 alone, the world produced 53.6 megatons of e-waste, and less than 18% of that was documented and recycled.
The rate of production of electronics has outstripped the speed at which recycling efforts may match, creating permanent problems if a remedy is not quickly found. When e-waste is mixed with other trash, it ends up in a landfill or is incinerated. Either way, the toxic elements that lie within gadgets are released. These include mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium and thallium, among others.
All that can seep into the ground, polluting it and, eventually, causing contamination of the food chain and water sources. The government should enact sound policies aimed at improving e-waste management. Huge sums of money can also be generated through proper e-waste management. Some have asked questions like, is recycling really the answer?
Recycling also takes a toll on the environment. Removing the precious and reusable metals within an item and its components is inherently a toxic process. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the regions that are stripped of their resources needed to manufacture electronics are where those electronics are dumped after they’re used.
When products are discarded via recycling programs, they often end up in Asia, Africa, India, and South America, according to a United Nations report 2020.
Some problems caused by out-dated and old scraps can be hardly identified unless one takes a closer look at some parts of Harare.
Due to harm caused to communities, repurposing e-waste should be a motivating factor in many affected countries.
It’s a hazard to the people who are tasked with breaking it down by hand without any protection.
In most cases, these people are children. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in India recently found that children as young as eight were involved in segregating hazardous e-waste.
Greenpeace has documented children in Ghana dismantling computers and TVs for the metals inside while the remaining plastic flames up, releasing toxic gases.
Working on the concept of creating small recycling facilities, which can be easily installed in communities to encourage safer and more effective recycling is the way to go.
The ability to create more of them in residential areas like where e-waste is highly produced would be an ecological win, since it would eliminate the carbon toll from carting e-waste long distances and benefit the communities that find themselves the unwelcome recipients of others’ trash. A country without an e-waste policy is a threat to the environment.
The European Union has made progress in its right-to-repair push, which is designed to reduce e-waste through extending the longevity of electronics.
Larger electronics like televisions and monitors that are sold in the European Union have to be repairable for at least 10 years, which means manufacturers must guarantee the production of spare parts.
A proper e-waste management system is crucial for Zimbabwe to protect the environment and public health as well as to comply with international environmental agreements and promote sustainable economic development.
*Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his own personal capacity. For feedback email: email@example.com or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19