Let us recycle plastic e-waste, end pollution
First published on June 5, 2023, on Nation Africa
World Environment Day, observed annually on June 5, presents an opportunity to raise awareness and take decisive measures on pressing environmental concerns. This year, the theme of the event is “solutions to plastic pollution,” emphasizing the urgent need to address the global crisis of plastic waste. Plastic pollution poses a visible menace to communities worldwide, with devastating impacts on human health, biodiversity, and ecosystems. As we work together to find and support solutions, it’s important to understand how recycling electronic waste, or e-waste plays a crucial role in reducing plastic pollution and protecting the environment.
E-waste plastics, one of the fastest-growing waste streams globally, often contain toxic substances such as heavy metals and brominated flame retardants. According to the World Economic Forum, a record 53.6 metric tonnes of e-waste – discarded electrical and electronic equipment – was generated globally in 2019, and the quantity is still rising with an estimated annual growth rate of 3-4%1. Plastics constitute nearly 20% of e-waste, making it a major contributor to the plastic pollution crisis.
Despite several technological developments, the recycling of e-waste plastics is hindered by the presence of flame retardants. Interestingly, there are exciting developments in the field of sustainable e-waste management and fighting plastic pollution. Initiatives like Green Cities Inc. in Liberia and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Centre (WEEE Centre) in Kakuma are leading the charge, setting the stage for a brighter future.
In a significant step towards empowering the youth, particularly young women in Kenya, AECF (Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund), through the KKCF (Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund), supported the entry of WEEE Center into the Kakuma-Kalobeyei area. The center is enhancing e-learning and development for the refugee and host community by equipping youth, especially young women, with crucial skills in digital literacy, ICT repair, and maintenance of electronics, including computers and solar equipment, and most importantly, focusing on the safe disposal and recycling of e-waste. The center collects and dismantles e-waste to recover raw materials for recycling into new electronic products. Their commitment to environmental sustainability extends beyond Kenya, as their innovative e-waste management strategies have been adopted in several African countries. Through these efforts, they have successfully processed over 10,000 tons of e-waste, preventing 14,400 tons of CO2 emissions since 2012.
Additionally, Green Cities Inc., a youth-led social enterprise operating Liberia’s first modern e-waste segregation and recycling facility, exemplifies the commitment to creating a clean and green environment while generating employment opportunities for youth and women. Through waste collection and sorting, buying, and selling of recyclables, organic, plastic, and e-waste recycling, Green Cities Inc. is making significant strides in solid waste management. By incentivizing waste separation and establishing a circular plastics economy, the company not only reduces plastic pollution but also creates economic opportunities for local communities.
The interconnection between plastics and e-waste is undeniable. Both pose significant challenges to the environment and human health. Plastics and e-waste debris contaminate land, water, and air and contain chemicals altering the quality of ecosystems. However, by addressing e-waste recycling, we can make significant progress in mitigating the plastic pollution crisis. Proper recycling and disposal of e-waste can minimize the accumulation of microplastics in water systems and significantly reduce the hazards they pose to human health and the environment.
Investments in e-waste recycling infrastructure, technological advancements, and awareness campaigns are imperative to overcome the challenges associated with recycling e-waste plastics. AECF’s partnerships with Green Cities in Liberia and the WEEE Centre serve as inspiring examples of the positive impact that can be achieved through sustainable investments in e-waste management. By prioritizing digital literacy programs, and job opportunities for young people, these organizations not only contribute to environmental protection but also empower local communities and foster economic growth.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of World Environment Day, it is imperative that governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals come together to invest in e-waste recycling infrastructure, promote awareness, and foster sustainable practices. The campaign theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution,” underscores the need for transformative action through a multifaceted approach, and the recycling of e-waste stands as a crucial solution.
Let us seize this opportunity to triumph over plastic pollution and pave the way for a cleaner and greener planet for our future generations.