E-Waste: Zimbabwe’s environmental time bomb

Fitzgerald Munyoro

Electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) refers to all electrical components, subassemblies,
and consumables that have become obsolete.


E-waste includes large, discarded appliances, such as refrigerators, air conditioners and washing machines, as well as small personal items, including computers, televisions, mobile phones, and
many other devices that are operated by electrical currents or batteries.


Electronic waste (e-waste) is generated in enormous amounts worldwide, and recently has become a global environmental concern for Africa because of the way it is handled, especially in developing
countries.


Africa undoubtedly is the fastest growing economy than any other continent, and this has resulted in increase in the importation of electronic and electrical goods and in the implementation of information
and communication technologies.


Often these technological components have a short life span and the local environment has struggled with finding ways to dispose of the goods which are then dumped.


Analysts have raised alarm and said the movement of goods from developed countries to developing countries where it is dismantled for valuable metals in informal settings, resulting in significant
human exposure to toxic substances.


A senior academic in the department of development studies at Women’s University
of Africa Dr Stella Shumba has said that e-waste poses a number of dangers to human life.


She also said African leaders are not doing enough to mitigate the effects of e-waste.


“E-waste is going to be a big problem owing to inadequate infrastructure for e-waste management and non-existence of laws, multitudes of hazardous substances are released due to the crude way e-waste is recycled and could pose risks for humans and the environment. “said Dr Shumba.


The lack of clear roadmap in managing E-waste is a point that was also pronounced
by Zane Cooper a doctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication.

Dr Zane Cooper has been extensively researching and writing
about the effects of electronic waste

“E-waste management is an issue in Africa because of the increasing global production of electronic and electrical equipment, lack of clear action plans by African governments on the handling of e-waste, and the absence of infrastructure for appropriate e-waste management.


“The harm to the environment is made worse when the discarded material is not readily recycled, as is the case with plastics that now contaminate land and water bodies.


“E-waste includes many substances that are dangerous to the health of humans and the environment if released in an unsound manner. E-waste recorded in 2019 contained as much as 50 tons of
mercury.”said Cooper.


Dr Margaret Macherera of Lupane State University a Ph.D. holder in Public health said the archaic methods that are currently in use to dispose and extract materials off electronic matter will have devastating effects to the environment and poison the air.


“In developing countries many e-waste recyclers use primitive methods, such as mechanical shredding, manual dismantling and sorting and open burning, to isolate these valuable materials.


“Plastics are burned, often at low temperatures, to dispose of computer casings and to retrieve metals from electronic chips and other components leading to the formation of dioxins. Old tires may
be burned to generate the heat to melt wires and incineration is used to extract valuable materials.


Since there are often inadequate stack emission controls, incineration can also release harmful heavy metals into the environment.


Strong acids are used to extract metals from printed circuit boards.


These methods result in severe air pollution containing many toxic substances around e-waste recycling areas. Particulates and other air pollutants are inhaled by workers and nearby residents” said
Macherera.


In 2017, UN recommended in its 3rd report of the Global E-waste Monitor,that there be an adoption of regulations and recycling programmes by governments.


However, these appeals are falling on deaf ears, only 13 African countries have a national policy of regulation and management of electronic waste in compliance with environmental and health
standards.


Zimbabwe is not included in this group.

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