E-waste management a global focus as countries opt to minimise its “toxic toll”

The UN Environment is supporting nations such as Nigeria to turn the tide on e-waste, in a bid to minimise the threat to the environment and the health of people.

In a statement, the UN Environment said the new project, announced on June 19, aims to reform the electronics sector and put an end to the toxic toll improper management of e-waste is taking on Nigeria.

More than half a million tonnes of discarded appliances are processed in the country every year.

The UN Environment explained that Nigeria’s piles of e-waste come both from home and abroad. The country generated 290,000 tonnes of electronic waste in 2017 – a 170 per cent increase against 2009.

Meanwhile, Nigeria remains a major recipient of used electronics from abroad.

While the true amount of overseas-generated waste landing in Nigeria is hard to quantify, United Nations University research has revealed more than 60,000 tonnes of used electrical and electronics equipment are shipped into the country annually via Lagos ports alone.

More than 25 per cent of this is dead on arrival – heading straight to dumps or dismantling.

With backing from the Global Environment Facility, the government of Nigeria has joined forces with UN Environment and partners to take on the challenge under the Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronics Sector in Nigeria project.

The $15 million initiative will bring together players from government, the private sector and civil society to kickstart a financially self-sustaining circular economy approach for electronics.

Speaking at the launch of the program, secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Ibukun Odusote, said e-waste posed a grave danger to both the environment and human health.

“This intervention by Global Environment Facility aims to stimulate the development of a sustainable circular economy for electronic products.”

According to the International Labour Organisation, up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste recycling sector in Nigeria, collecting and dismantling electronics by hand to reclaim the saleable components.

Informal workers are directly exposed to hazardous chemicals and commonly suffer respiratory and dermatological problems, eye infections and lower than average life expectancy.

The waste is often dumped or burned –releasing pollutants including heavy metals and toxic into the air, water and soil.

In order to minimise the amount of e-waste that is improperly disposed of in Australia, the Australian government established the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme in 2011.

The scheme gives Australian households and small businesses access to free industry-funded collection and recycling services for televisions and computers, including printers, computer parts and peripherals.

More than 1,800 collection services have been made available to the public and 290,000 tonnes of TV and computer e-waste have been collected and recycled, the Federal government estimates.

This has diverted hazardous materials away from landfill and enabled the reuse of valuable resources contained in e-waste, with more than 90 per cent of materials recovered each year.

The scheme is operated by government-approved administrators on behalf of industry and it is regulated by the Australian government.