Ghana has been cited as the country with the biggest e-waste dumping site in the world. And that is because, e-waste from almost every part of the world finds its way into the country, potentially poisoning its land and underground water sources with a cocktail of heavy metal chemicals such as cadmium, lead, barium, mercury, arsenic and polybromynated flame retardants. These are dangerous both to humans and the environment.
It is 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.
The only scientific study ever done on the e-waste situation in the country, puts the volume of e-waste that reaches the informal recycling sector in Ghana at 171,000 metric tonnes. The study was done in 2011.
According to the report, which gathered data from Ghana’s ports of entry, electronics sales points, Customs, Excise and Preventive Services (CEPS) among others, the electronics and electrical equipment (EEE) imports into Ghana in 2009 added up to 215,000 tons and a per capita import of 9kg.
The report released in March 2011, said about 30 per cent of the imports comprised of new products and 70 per cent second hand EEE. Around 15 per cent of the second hand imports were estimated to be unsellable. The unsellable items, the report described as those that would not respond to power, are broken or outdated. It also found that a significant portion of these were destined directly to the informal recycling sector. Another 20 per cent of the imports can be serviced (repaired/refurbished) to get them functioning, it added.
The amount of material that reaches the formal recycling sector accounted only for 0.2 per cent, the report said.
Informal recyclers operating in the country collect obsolete electronics and electrical equipment, dismantle them and remove valuable parts. They often burn cables to extract copper wires for sale. They do these in the open and without any protective clothing, despite the inherent dangers that they are possibly exposed to from the toxic chemicals contained in e-waste.
Meanwhile, an estimated 90 per cent of the world’s e-waste, worth nearly $19 billion, is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report pointed out that, each year, the electronics industry generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste from goods such as computers and smart phones, with forecasts saying that figure may reach 50 million tonnes by 2017.
The risk from e-waste likely to hit Ghanaians gets real by the day, as multiple scientific studies done on soil and water collected from the Agbogbloshie processing site and surrounding areas are showing extremely higher levels of carcinogenic substances such as lead, cadmium, barium and others, and these are spreading beyond the processing site. The contamination has reached areas including James Town, Korle-Gonno and the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.
According to some medical sources at the Korle-bu Teaching Hospital, some of the chemicals found in e-waste are potential cancer causing agents, adding that, however, it takes time for the disease to show in an individual who has come into contact with the chemicals. When people come into contact with these chemicals, they get into the blood system through touch, inhalation and ingestion.
Ghana consequently passed the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control Management Bill 2016 in June , to deal with the risks of e-waste.
The law among others, stipulates that the country will put up an e-waste recycling plant.
The Memorandum, in acknowledging the dangers posed by e-waste, states, among others: “that it has become necessary to enact legislation on hazardous electronic waste in order to ensure a sound waste management and recycling system to save our forests and future generations and for Ghana to fulfill her obligations under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.”
The law further makes room for the establishment of recycling facilities. Clause 29 of the law says the Minister of Environment may by Legislative Instrument make regulations for the establishment of electrical and electronic waste recycling plants and related facilities in the country.
Speaking to journalists in Accra last week, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Mahama Ayariga said the government will engage external inspectors to check every attempt to ship used electronics and electrical items into the country to determine if they are not e-waste and are re-usable. He said, if they don’t meet acceptable standards for reusable items, they would be prevented from entering the country.
According to the Minister, if the items are in conditions that can be re-used, these items will be allowed into the country.
He added that, the government in fulfillment of the requirements of the law, will set up a recycling plant for e-waste.
He said after these items allowed into the country have been fairly re-used and they have become e-waste, the eco-levy which the law has now imposed on imported electronics and electrical items, will be used to build a recycling plant, and the workers at Agbogbloshie will be hired and retrained to do proper recycling.
“In the future when this programme is fully implemented, you will not have an Agbogbloshie at all, because it will be more profitable to send your items there, where it will be more efficiently done,” he said.
There is however, a school of thought that argues against a recycling plant in Ghana. They argue that having a plant in the country could be used as an excuse for increased e-waste dumping.
By Emmanuel K Dogbevi
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