When the new Electronic Waste Regulations are finally gazetted, it will be mandatory for producers and importers of electronic goods to state clearly how and where the products will be treated upon the end of their life. Vicky Onderi, a former environmental officer in charge of e-waste at Nema tells People Daily’s JAMES MOMANYI how Kenya became a pioneer in regulation of e-waste management and her role in the significant move
Q: Who is Vicky Onderi and what do Kenyans need to know about electronic waste?
A: I was born and brought up in Kisii county before I moved to Nairobi for post-secondary studies and later work. I have a master’s degree in environmental management from the University of Nairobi and a postgraduate diploma in environmental management for developing and emerging economies from Dresden University in Germany.
I worked for the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) as an environment officer in charge of e-learning and waste management at a time when the continent started to engage on how to manage e-waste.
Although I resigned from Nema in 2013, I have been part of the team that has championed the formulation of the e-waste regulations, which were discussed and passed in Parliament last week. Currently, I am a director at East Africa Compliance Recycling Company, a consultancy firm on e-waste management.
On the second question, electronic waste comprises any electronic product whose life (usage)has come to end and needs to be disposed of. According to United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), Kenya generates annually over 11,400 tonnes of e-waste from refrigerators, 2,800 tonnes from TVs, 2,500 tonnes of e-waste from computers, 500 tonnes from printers and 150 tonnes from mobile phones, among other products. This is a lot of e-waste, which if not properly treated can be harmful to the environment and people.
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Q: How did you get involved with the e-waste management or was was it your line of study?
A: Prior to 2010, Kenya, and in general Africa, didn’t have e-waste guidelines, policy and regulations. In 2010, environment ministries from across the continent met and passed a resolution that called for the mainstreaming of technology-supported learning in the environment sector.
I was tasked to develop drafts on e-waste guidelines together with my colleagues at the department. We formed four working groups to focus on capacity building, infrastructure and connectivity, monitoring and evaluation and digital content for e-waste management.
The infrastructure and connectivity working group developed a draft on the e-waste policy, regulations and guidelines. But we realised that without a clear roadmap on implementation, the guidelines will be meaningless. Furthermore, without the legal framework, the guidelines would not serve any purpose.
This forced us to organise a Pan-African conference in March 2012 to discuss the issues from a continental perspective and come up with a common solution for all African countries.
It’s worth noting that Kenya is the only country in Africa that has, so far, formulated the e-waste regulations while others such as South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia and others it is still work in progress.
Q: Who have been the main actors in Kenya in the formulation of structures and systems of the e-waste framework?
A: There have been many actors since the journey started in 2010. Besides Nema, the government through the Office of the Presidency in the current and the previous regime has played a great role.
Various ministries such the Environment, Education, Industrialisation, Communication together as well as agencies such as KRA, Kebs and Parliament have played a huge role, especially in putting in place e-waste regulations.
Allow me to point out the great role the directors of Nema and the Environment Cabinet secretary Judi Wakhungu have played.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have also supported the work done by various actors, with government taking e-waste management as one of its flagship projects.
In Parliament, the Speaker Justin Muturi has been the main driving force together with Committee on Environment chaired by Amina Abdallah and the Committee on Delegated Legislation led by Baringo North MP William Cheptumo.
The trio played a key role in organising several seminars where Kenyan MPs and their East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) counterparts were upraised on e-waste. This made it possible for the MPs to debate and pass the Electronic Waste Regulations now awaiting gazettement.
Apart from Kenyan institutions, Unep and the European Union have played a major role in providing resources and partnerships that have made the journey possible.
African Union has also been of great support, especially in making e-waste a continental agenda that needs common solution. Currently, we are developing a tool kit so that the regulations can be adopted by all African countries.
Q: What are some of the major provisions in the regulations that will impact on the society directly?
A: One of the provisions is that henceforth, no company will manufacture or import any electronics without stating where its e-waste will be treated after end of their life.
They must sign an MoU with the treatment facility before the product is allowed into the country. That is why KRA and Kebs have been part of the teams developing the regulations, together with importers and producers.
Q: What are some of the impacts of electronic waste to human beings and environment?
A: Electronic waste releases to the environment toxic chemicals such as lead, barium, mercury and other harmful components into environment, which endanger lives of both the public and the workers involved in the recycling process.
E-waste, when burnt, causes air pollution through release of toxic emissions, some of which are known carcinogens. Poor disposal blocks water channels, contaminates land and compromises scenic beauty.
Recycling makes business sense because end of electronic equipment contain valuable resources and precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, steel, aluminium, and plastics.
But more importantly, with the kind of system the stakeholders and the government are currently trying to put in place, the e-waste management sector is going to be one of the biggest creators of employment because there are going to be many people involved in collection, recycling or treatment and disposal.
My e-waste treatment company is already in talks with the governors to have collection points in all counties. Women and youth groups will be involved in the programme and, in return, earn a decent living.
Q: A part from e-waste management benefits, what are other attendant gains Kenyans will derive from management structures put in place?
A: Foremost, Kenya is going to be the focal point of e-waste management in Africa being the pacesetter. Other countries will learn from us and this will involve knowledge and skills transfer.
Since we have also established treatment facilities, most countries, especially in the Comesa region may prefer to bring their waste here for treatment the same way most European countries take theirs to Belgium, which has the biggest treatment facility in Europe.
Secondly, almost all public universities in Kenya have signed an MoU with UK’s Northampton University to partner in the training on e-waste management.
This means we are also going to be pacesetters in the academia and research in the field of e-waste management in the continent. The spill-overs will be massive.
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Home storage unit is perfect for continent rich in solar and wind resources but short of reliable power sources, says Christine Mungai
Batteries that can store renewable energy for longer and at half the current cost have been hailed as an energy revolution that could transform Africa’s power supply.
Tesla boss Elon Musk said the company had Africa in mind when it developed the wall-mounted energy source. Just like the mobile phone allowed the continent to surge ahead in internet connectivity, so a battery pack that can power a home or business could allow Africans to leapfrog the limits of the grid.
The company has promised to release the technology into the public domain, encouraging others to develop their own models using the open source data.
At $3,500 (£2,267) for the 10 kilowatt hours version or $3,000 for a 7KWh version it’s still relatively expensive, but within a few years the price is expected to dropas others develop their own models.
Africa is the world’s most energy-scarce continent. Sub-Saharan Africa has an installed capacity equivalent to that of Spain, and half of it is in South Africa alone.
But perhaps more importantly, Africa could become the global centre for green energy. Thanks to the expansive Sahara desert, strong winds along its coasts and its flat, arid interior, and geothermal reserves all along the Rift Valley, the continent has the world’s highest reserves of renewable energy resources.
Here are three ways the new battery could make an impact:
Lighting and power
The battery could allow millions to leapfrog from no electricity at all straight to renewables.
Sub-Saharan Africa has more people living without access to electricity than any other region – more than 600 million people – nearly half of the global total. Although
the continent is home to 13% of the world’s population, it accounts for only 4% of global energy demand.
Worse still, the electricity available is erratic. Nigeria’s power is notoriously unreliable, but Ghana and South Africa have also been recently plunged into blackouts, mainly because of a lack of investment in the electricity grid.
With the Powerwall currently able to supply five hours of power, an enterprising African engineer could hook up several together, scaling up the battery’s capacity to provide continuous power to homes or commercial centres.
The battery could also finally break Africa’s dependance on fuel guzzling generators. In 2012, the cost of fuel for backup generators used by businesses and households is estimated to have been at least $5bn.
Nigeria is said to have the biggest concentration of generators per square kilometre in the world; the country accounts for almost three-quarters of electricity supply provided by back-up generators in Africa.
Mobile tech hubs
Today, technology hubs are springing up all over Africa’s cities. There are currently at least 90 tech hubs across the continent.
Kenya is planning to build a tech city – its “silicon savannah” – costing $14.5bn from scratch at Konza, 60km away from the capital in Nairobi. Ghana plans to build Hope City, a $10bn high-tech hub outside Accra, aiming to turn Ghana into a major tech player too.
Meanwhile, companies like Facebook and Google have ambitious plans to deploy wireless internet across the globe using drones or hot-air balloons to carry the signal.
But the combination of a solar panel battery and drone/balloon internet, it might only be a matter of time before the idea of a physical tech city itself becomes obsolete.
Using the new batteries, a tech hub – and workplaces in general – could become more mobile, springing up guerrilla-style anywhere in urban or rural Africa, like a flash mob for geeks.
Disengaging from government
With the possibility of being entirely off-grid, the home battery could finalise the disconnection of African everyday life from the happenings in the political sphere.
Traditionally, the relationship between a government and its people is one of bartering political support for the provision of services, such as roads, schools, electricity, water and security.
But increasingly, African life today is characterised by an extensive retreat of the state from these functions.
In Kenya, for example, the number of private primary schools rose nearly 1,000%in a decade, while the number of government primary schools grew just 40%.
In Uganda, the percentage of university students attending private institutions jumped from 9% in 1999 to 74% in 2011. In South Africa, there are more private security guards than police and army combined.
Nairobi city senator Mike Sonko even recently launched a personally funded fleetof ambulances, tow trucks, garbage collectors, water bowsers and fire brigades to respond to citizen emergencies.
Already, studies show that the African middle class deliberately disengages from politics as a form of protest, particularly if the government is authoritarian or a quasi-democracy.
The result – if the Tesla batteries take off, and Africa goes off-grid – could be less pressure on states to provide infrastructure and services to its people, widening the gap between governments and voters.
Source: The Guardian
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