Waste electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) is among the world’s fastest-growing and most socially and environmentally-problematic waste streams. In recent years, the human and environmental health impacts from improper e-waste recycling and disposal have become painfully clear in African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria. As the consumption of electrical and electronic equipment increases along with economic growth, e-waste is likely to become a concern in many more African countries.
Marking an important step toward preventing the country’s e-waste problems, the Ethiopian E-waste Management Project was formally launched at a meeting in Addis Ababa in April 2013. This two-year project focuses on the upscaling of e-waste prevention and management activities in Ethiopia, in an effort to help the country develop the technical, legal and administrative capacity to handle the expected growth in e-waste in a socially and environmentally sound manner.
The Ethiopian Government’s Environmental Protection Authority and Ministry of Communication and Information Technology are leading the project’s implementation. Project partners include the United Nations University, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as well as partners from the private sector, with co-financing from the Global Environment Facility.
The launch of the project was immediately followed by the “National Open E-waste Stakeholder Forum” on 19 April, where numerous Ethiopian small and medium-sized enterprises, non-governmental organizations, private sector institutions, Ethiopian governmental agencies, foreign and international organizations, and individuals interested in e-waste management discussed the project objectives and possibilities for cooperation.
According to a recent Green Paper produced by the UNU-hosted Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative, the Öko-Institut and PAN-Ethiopia, the stored volume of e-waste in Ethiopia is still relatively small (an estimated 4,300 tonnes of non-functioning computers, televisions, mobile phones and refrigerators) and generally confined to urban areas, particularly the city of Addis Ababa. The report notes that “there are some hints that e-waste is disposed of in an uncontrolled manner”, though most of it is simply stored in households and offices, as it is considered to be an asset rather than waste electrical and electronic equipment to be discarded.
However, as Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most rapidly developing countries, the availability of electrical and electronic equipment will surely increase in the coming years, and the relative cost of acquiring it will decrease. As this happens, the Green Paper’s authors predict reduced willingness by Ethiopians to store non-functioning equipment, thus increassing the volume of e-waste and presenting considerable social and environmental challenges related to its recycling and disposal.
The development and adoption of environmentally sound business models, policies, processes and technologies are a central component of the Ethiopian E-waste Management Project, as well as upgrading the existing Computer Refurbishment and Training Center and Electronics De-manufacturing facility located south of Addis Ababa, in Akaki. To promote sustainable long-term solutions for Ethiopia and the region, the project also seeks to establish linkages with neighbouring countries.
The project aims to promote the prevention of e-waste and mobilize political and institutional support for e-waste management. This will foster the formation of an environmentally sound service industry and help to extend the lifetime of electrical and electronic equipment, particularly personal computers.
Ultimately, this project will both create employment opportunities and enhance the availability of refurbished ICT equipment, giving micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises in Ethiopia access to affordable hardware, and will lead to sharing of best practices with nearby countries.