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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Less than a sixth of the tens of millions of tonnes of electronic and electrical waste generated across the world last year was properly recycled, reused or treated, a study has found.
There was 41.8 million tonnes of “e-waste”, ranging from washing machines to mobile phones in 2014 – containing an estimated £35 billion in resources such as gold, silver and copper, as well as toxins including ozone layer-depleting gases and mercury.
But just 6.5 million tonnes was sent to proper recycling, reuse or treatment systems, the Global E-Waste Monitor compiled by the United Nations University (UNU) think tank found.
While the US and China produced the most electronic and electrical waste overall, contributing 32% of the total, the UK was one of the biggest producers of e-waste per person – coming fifth behind Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark.
The problem is growing as a result of rising sales and shortening life cycles of electronic and electrical equipment, which includes any device with a battery or an electric lead, the UNU said.
UN under-secretary-general David Malone said: “Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’ – a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials.
“At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a ‘toxic mine’ that must be managed with extreme care.
“The monitor provides a baseline for national policymakers, producers and the recycling industry, to plan take-back systems.”
He said it would also help control the illegal trade in electronic and electrical waste.
“This will eventually lead to improve resource efficiency while reducing the environmental and health impacts of e-waste,” he said.
The waste generated in 2014 contained an estimated 16.5 million tonnes of iron, 1.9 million tonnes of copper and 300 tonnes of gold, which was equal to a little over a tenth (11%) of the world’s total gold production in 2013.
Toxins in the waste including 2.2 million tonnes of lead glass, 300,000 tonnes of batteries – as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium, which can harm health, and 4,400 tonnes of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Around 60% of the waste was a mix of large and small equipment used in homes and businesses, with large items including washing machines, dishwashers, electric stoves and solar panels and smaller items including vacuum cleaners, electric shavers and video cameras.
Just 7% of the waste was made up of mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, printers and other small IT equipment.
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