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As Ghana tinkers, African countries called upon to regulate e-waste

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E-waste in Ghana
E-waste in Ghana

E-waste is a major public health danger. That fact is known globally and Ghana has been cited as one of the countries in Africa where e-waste is dumped – exposing the environment and humans to possible health risks from the chemicals contained in that kind of waste.

But the country does not appear to be in hurry to address the issue.

Ghanaian public officials are on record to have challenged anyone who claimed there was e-waste dumping in the country to show them evidence.

Meanwhile, an assessment report of the e-waste situation in Ghana by some local and international organisations including a public insitution published in May 2011 found that there are 171,000 tons of e-waste in the country’s informal recycling sector.

The groups that did the study are Green Ad, a Ghanaian NGO, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA).

It is also known that 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated in the world annually and a great amount of that ends up in developing countries including Ghana and Nigeria.

E-waste is known to contain hazardous chemicals including lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic. These chemicals are not bio-degradable – meaning when they enter the food chain or blood stream, they do not breakdown, and therefore cause some cancers including leukemia.

The environmental activist group, Greenpeace International, has done the only known scientific examination of e-waste in Ghana.

In 2008, the Greenpeace did a lab test of the soil and water at Agbogbloshie, and the results showed that the soil in the area contained toxic chemicals at levels a hundred times more than World Health Orgaisation (WHO) allowable limits.

Meanwhile, the dumping continues, even though, it is believed to have reduced.

The reduction in dumping if true can be attributed to growing awareness and the vigilance of the security services in Europe in particular.

For instance, in the last four years, some individuals and companies in Europe found to be responsible for dumping e-waste into Ghana have been arrested, prosecuted and sanctioned.

And even though, Ghana has been involved in a number of international discussions to tackle the problem, and public officials have made statements suggesting action was being taken, not much is happening.

Early in October 2012, the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Ms. Sherry Ayitey told ghanabusinessnews.com that the law to regulate e-waste in Ghana was to be reviewed by Parliament in the middle of the month. However, that has not been done and Parliament has gone on recession. The House won’t be back until after the general elections on December 7, 2012. A new Parliament will convene on January 7, 2013.

When ghanabusinessnews.com called her to verify, she referred us to Parliament.

Checks at Parliament’s Table Office Tuesday October 30, 2012, showed that no such bill has been put before the House. The only documentary evidence of a bill on e-waste was a Letter of Intent listing a number of bills to be put before Parliament. The Letter submitted in May 2012 shows the e-waste bill as number one.

Meanwhile, during the African Development Forum held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 23 to 25, 2012, participants called on African countries to pass regulations to deal with the growing menace of e-waste on the continent.

Environmental regulators, recyclers, original equipment manufacturers, policy makers and academicians attending the conference called for regulations to curb the surge in e-waste dumping on the continent. They also called for a continental framework to address the increasing number of obsolete computers, appliances, mobile phones and other devices that are being dumped on the continent, according to a report in the conference daily newspaper, the ‘ADF Today’ issue of Tuesday October 23, 2012.

Dr. Ngeri Benebo, director-General of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) of Nigeria was cited by the newspaper as saying, “We are mindful of the benefits of the business opportunities and resources inherent in e-waste recycling however, … what we want is, it should be done properly.”

It has also been noted elsewhere that Africa is likely to overtake Europe in the volume of e-waste generaton.

“One study suggests Africa will generate more e-waste than Europe by 2017,” the Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention on hazardous waste, Katharina Kummer Peiry, has been cited by reports saying on the sidelines of the first Pan-African Forum on E-waste in Nairobi, Kenya in March 2012.

The reports also quoted Miranda Amachree of Nigeria’s National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency as saying “At the current rate … by 2017 we’ll be faced with so much e-waste — even more than in the EU.”

Available data shows that some 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are generated worldwide every year, comprising more than 5% of all municipal solid waste. When the millions of computers purchased around the world every year (183 million in 2004) become obsolete they leave behind lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous wastes.

In the US alone, some 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out every year. In the EU the volume of e-waste is expected to increase by 3 to 5 per cent a year.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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