UN-backed report warns of dangers of increasing electronic waste in West Africa

Domestic Consumption is Main Contributor to Africa's E-Waste. Photo: UNEP

10 February 2012 – West Africa is facing a significant increase in waste generated by electronic equipment which poses mounting health and environmental risks, according to a United Nations report released today.

About 85 per cent of the waste produced in the region comes from domestic consumption, the report reveals. However, the problem is further exacerbated by industrialized countries importing used equipment which often proves to be unsuitable for re-use and end up being discarded.

“Effective management of the growing amount of e-waste generated in Africa and other parts of the world is an important part of the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy”, said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report assessed the situation over two years in five countries – Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria – and found that they produce between 650,000 and 1,000,000 tons of domestic e-waste each year, which can have a negative impact in the environment and increase the risk of health issues.

As for waste coming from other countries, the report notes that the United Kingdom is the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment, followed by France and Germany.

According to UNEP, although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace as more people start using mobile phones and personal computers.

The report, which was prepared by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and partners, also documents the economic and environmental potential of building a resource recovery and waste management system for electronic waste, along with the risks of continuing on the present course.

“We can grow Africa’s economies, generate decent employment and safeguard the environment by supporting sustainable e-waste management and recovering the valuable metals and other resources locked inside products that end up as e-waste,” Mr. Steiner said, adding that the report provides various strategies to limit damages and provide economic opportunities, something that is crucial for long-term sustainability.

“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream world-wide and a key waste stream under the Basel Convention,” said Jim Willis, Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention. The convention’s secretariat is administered by UNEP.

“Dealing with electronic and electrical equipment properly presents a serious environmental and health challenge for many countries, yet also offers a potentially significant opportunity to create green businesses and green jobs.”


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