Public health burden of E-waste in Sub-Saharan Africa

In 2030, non-industrial e-waste set to reach 74 million tonnes ! And in 2019, according to the annual Global e-waste Monitor only 42,5 per cent was formally collected and recycled.

Have you ever wondered where your old computers, old phones and tablets end up? It is time to ask the question because electronic waste is generated in enormous quantities! This is a global issue in terms of ecology but also for the health of each of us. Indeed, the way in which this waste is treated, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, poses a real problem because this country does not have the appropriate laws or infrastructures.


Garbage cans are overflowing and poor countries suffer

The use and increase of new technologies associated with Africa’s rapid growth highlights a major challenge. With regulatory and structural inadequacies, this country is confronted with a multitude of dangerous substances suddenly released. This electronic waste presents risks for humans as well as for the environment.

Previously, the Agbogbloshie scrapyard in Ghana’s capital, Accra, was dubbed “the most polluted place on Earth”. In particular, it was one of the main sources of income for many workers in the informal economy. They repaired, dismantled and bought scrap metal and tried to give a new life to certain materials. A startup has made a prototype egg incubator directly from disused refrigerators.

But alongside these commendable initiatives, cries of distress are being heard. Everyday, scavengers go through heaps of electronic waste to extract precious materials to resell. It continues to be a major health concern to the scavengers, as well as the local community in which the dump is located.⁣

Human health, a major concern ?

The informal recycling of electronic waste is a real danger in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, informal workers manipulate these objects which expose them to toxic cocktails of heavy metals. Among these metals are: on-dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PBDF) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (DL-PCB) ).

For the most part, they are endocrine disruptors. Therefore, informal recycling is a serious threat to public health.

Besides this aspect, in many studies, high levels of pollutants have been found in water, air, dust, soil, food and even in some samples of blood, urine and even maternal milk ! It’s time to sound the alarm. Without stating the full range of ills that some residents suffer, the evidence is overwhelming and human health and the environment are at great risk.

E-waste recycling : opposition between risk and opportunity

Depending on the point of view, this electronic waste can represent a risk (as we have seen) but also an opportunity. It is clear that if the waste were well managed, such difficulties would not exist. Opportunities include increasing jobs, economic benefits for precious metal recovery for industry, helping to clean up the environment, renovating or selling. For the moment, only the informal sector is efficient and cost-effective in this case.

In conclusion, sub-Saharan Africa needs to have a clearly defined action plan.

Auteur

  • Juriste en droit de l'Homme et droit des ONG, passionnée par l'éducation; j'ai fait le choix de parfaire ma formation par un Master 2 en droit de l'économie numérique.

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