Definitely, no one would deny that the world is slowly and relentlessly drowning under the weight of electronic waste, commonly referred as e-waste. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), African and Asian countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, China, Pakistan, India and Vietnam are turning into illegal e-waste hubs. In doing so, they have been bypassing the legitimate global waste and recycling market, estimated to worth $410 billion a year.
Incidentally, computers and smart phones are the biggest culprits contributing to the 41 million tonne e-waste pile that could reach 50 million tonnes by 2017. The agency noted that while export of hazardous wastes from European Union (EU) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to non-OECD countries is still in force, many of the items find their way into Nigeria and other Third World nations. In addition, it accuses importers of falsely declaring e-wastes as second-hand goods in order to beat customs checks. The explanation for this unholy action is that it costs less than recycling them in their countries of origin.
Unfortunately, most of the hazardous items include waste batteries falsely described as plastic or mixed scrap, cathode ray tubes and computer monitors misleadingly declared as metal scrap. We are also alarmed at the influx of these banned materials into Nigeria, which are contributing to the mountain of discarded chemicals, counterfeit pesticides and other municipal wastes. More worrying is that the challenge of Nigeria’s e-waste tops those of other African countries given her large population and problem of poorly policed borders.
Recent survey shows that Nigeria has more than 65 million mobile phone subscribers, which is found to be a main contributor to the country’s growing e-waste. In fact, the country is fast becoming a thriving electronic graveyard as tonnes of discarded appliances from all over the world find their way here. Recent estimates put this at about eight million personal computer units, with a weight estimated at 90,000 metric tons
A report by United Nations University says 41 million tonnes of electronic waste worth over $50 billion was discarded all over the world in 2014 and only six million tonnes was recycled properly. Such e-waste contains ferrous and non-ferrous materials including precious and special metals like gold, palladium, silver, indium and gallium that could be obtained from dismantling of computer cases, frames, wires, cables and other components.
Unfortunately, recycling of these products is still in an inefficient manner. For example, such methods like open burning of plastics/copper wires to reduce waste volume and to salvage valuable metals like copper; and strong acid leaching of printed wiring to recover precious metals are still common. Moreover, e-waste contains hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, and brominated flame-retardants.
It is time the authorities check this mindless export of death to Nigeria, especially as these wastes contain toxic elements such as lead and mercury. Even more worrying is the sight of men and women trawling through the discarded electronics hoping to find something worth selling, thereby exposing themselves to these hazardous elements.
We are, however, not oblivious of existing environmental laws and regulations. Problem is that there is weak enforcement and a lack of awareness of the risks and potential harmful effects associated with e-waste, coupled with a lack of technical capacity for environmentally sound management. We therefore call for effective national legislation, including a stable enforcement regime to tackle this problem