E-waste is a problem in Nigeria with the Lagos ports serving as the entry point for tonnes of broken, unusable electronics that end up getting burnt up or just lie around, causing pollution in the process. There is a new plan to transform this trash into treasures.
The National Environmental Standards And Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) — in some ways, the Nigerian equivalent of the “environmental police” if there was any such thing — recently flagged off yet another project in its bid to make Nigeria cleaner, or at least nab the people who are responsible for wanton disposal of all kinds of waste and make an example out of them.
This time, though, the agency was trying to deal with what seems like a serious yet unpopular problem, so to speak. Actually, it was an “unpopular problem” up until some damning revelations made at the official launch of the new project in question ushered in a new wave of concerns.
As the day winded down, it had become apparent to anyone who did as much as listen that there was even more to worry about beyond stopping people from using single-use plastics and dissuading others from the urge to throw stuff out the window of moving vehicles, or dumping boatloads of trash into canals.
NESREA’s new project was christened “Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronics Sector In Nigeria”, and a good guess should land someone somewhere around the idea that the agency is looking into a new kind of garbage — one that may not be stinky or filthy but still has the potential to do terrible damage.
And based on the assertions made at the launch by Oluwatoyin Agbola, Controller of the Federal Ministry of Environment, who was standing in for Ibukun Odushotu, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, NESREA is probably right to be casting the spotlight on this.
Well, here’s the full picture; 500,000 used computers and 60,000 tonnes of e-waste, 75 percent of which are junk and unserviceable, are imported into Nigeria annually.
Oluwatoyin was actually quoting data from research conducted not too long ago by the Basel Action Network; a global network fighting for a cleaner environment. The research highlighted the influx of “technological junk” into the country, with Lagos particularly becoming something of a dumping ground for all kinds of electronic devices that have seen much better days and are now basically unusable.
Quoting findings from the BAN research, Oluwatoyin stated that an estimated 60,000 tonnes of used electrical and electronic waste in containers are imported into Nigeria annually through the Lagos ports, including imports from neighbouring countries.
The BAN study of Nigeria also shows that about 500,000 used computers are imported into the country annually through the Lagos ports alone and only an estimated 25 percent of the imports are functional electronics, with the remaining 75 percent being unsalvageable and unserviceable devices that are eventually burnt or dumped — wreaking environmental havoc in the process.
More disturbing still is the assertion that at least 15,700 of the imports making up this e-waste were television sets containing mercury and refrigerators and air-conditioners still laced with significant amounts of toxic acids. If the years roll by without any decent attempt to curb this, plastics and carbon emissions may not even to show up to the party for things to go from bad to worse.
And that’s why NESREA is stepping in. To curb the growing concerns of waste, including e-waste in the country, the federal government provided the legal framework and established NESREA, an institutional mechanism with the mandate to control and prevent processes or technology that degrade the environment. On paper, it’s a robust framework that should effectively tackle these problems but in reality, a lot is still left to be desired.
Nigeria, like many other countries, is still troubled by lingering waste disposal problems. Between dealing with single-use plastics, encouraging recycling, cutting back on carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels, discouraging practices that are injurious to the environment, and sensitizing the populace on environmental sanitation and proper waste disposal, there is already a lot on the table. Add that to the potentially-lethal e-waste that is building up in parts of the country and it makes for gloomy reading.
It is on the back of this that NESREA is looking to work closely with manufacturers and importers of these items to ensure that the hazardous items in their products are recycled at the end of the product’s life cycle. If all goes as it should, we should have one less thing to worry about soon. Hopefully. For now, there is a trash heap of work to do.
The Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronics Sector In Nigeria project is a USD 15 Mn initiative put together by the Nigerian government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment to kick off a circular electronics system in Nigeria.
Up to 100,000 people work in the informal electronic waste sector in Nigeria, processing half a million tonnes of discarded appliances every year.
Safe e-waste recycling has enormous economic potential, with 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore. As it stands, it looks like e-waste could be just as much a gold mine as it could be a tinderbox and it is hoped that the new initiative will prop up the former as the most likely outcome.
Featured Image Courtesy: guardian.ng