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Kenyan consumers may soon have to pay more for electronic goods if the government amends waste management laws in a fresh campaign to reduce the country’s e-waste.
Kenyan consumers may soon have to pay more for electronic goods if the government amends waste management laws in a fresh campaign to reduce the country’s e-waste.

At a recent Pan-African Forum on E-Waste held in Nairobi, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) said the current waste management regulations will be reviewed to include extended producer responsibility in dealing with hazardous waste.

This means that manufacturers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment will have to set up collection systems for obsolete products.

The statement by the Kenyan government follows a “Call for Action” directive agreed on by representatives from 18 African states, the United Nations, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and academia in changing the continent’s image as a dumping ground for electric and electronic waste.

According to the United Nation’s Environmental Programme( UNEP), increasing domestic consumption of electronic products, coupled with the ongoing import of waste electronics into Africa from other continents, means that Africa is set to generate a higher volume of e-waste than Europe by 2017.

The situation is not any different in Kenya where the level of e-waste generated locally has increased in the last five years.

As at 2009, UNEP estimated that the country generated a total of 7,350 tonnes of e-waste annually. Last year, the figures more than doubled to stand at 17,350 tonnes.

“Africa’s environmental challenges are growing by the day. This includes the exponential growth of electronic waste,” said Ali D. Mohamed, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources.

Mr Mohamed further added that as part of the remedy to the perennial problem, a re-assessment of current environmental management laws was inevitable.

“It is now time for Africa to take action on addressing health and environmental problems as a result of current recycling practices, while creating jobs and business opportunities and alleviating poverty. We want to achieve this through an enforceable legislative framework.”

Currently, handset maker Nokia and telephone services provider Safaricom have each established collection systems for obsolete mobile phones and a review of the legislation would force other companies to follow suit.

In addition to this, Nema is also looking at revising the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act, and the Procurement and Disposal Act to address waste-handling.

The review is likely to affect the importation of second-hand electronic goods which meet the computing needs of over half of home and institutional consumers.

According to the Basel Action Network, (BAN) the global organisation that focuses on combating toxic waste and international trade in toxic products from developed worlds to developing countries, much of the electronic equipment sold as refurbished products for re-use is e-waste.

Mr Jim Puckett, the founder of BAN, was in the country for the forum where he stated that although Kenya is a signatory to the Basel Convention of 1994, gaps still exist in the country’s quest to keep toxic e-waste outside its borders.

The Basel Convention stated that all exports of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries would be banned.

“Due to legislative loopholes and inadequate enforcement capacity, a lot of developing countries in Africa and Asia accept massive imports of “junk” that are labelled as “For Re-use”, he said.

Computer market

Previous attempts by the government to regulate the second hand computer market have been stymied by intense lobbying by dealers who insist that banning importation of re-furbs, as they are popularly known, would lead to job and revenue losses and negate the advances the country has made in ICT over the last 10 years.

If this fresh wave of legislative action by the government goes beyond the policy stage however, prices of computers and similar electronic accessories are bound to increase, with more than half of Kenyan consumers being forced to resort to purchasing new equipment for their computing needs.

The upside, however, is that the economy could gain by the creation of employment opportunities in e-waste collection and recycling centres.

“One tonne of obsolete mobile phones contains more gold than one tonne of ore and the picture is similar for other precious substances,” said Katherina Kummer-Peiry, Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention.

“If you consider the value of these materials, then this represents an important economic opportunity.

There are recyclers and other industrial sectors who are interested in taking advantage of such opportunities, which can in turn create green jobs and support sustainable development.”