BY EMEKA AGINAM
In a committed effort to solve the recycling and e-waste challenge in Africa, Microsoft Mobile Devices Group in partnership with German based company, Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH have entered into a partnership agreement to research the current practices of repairing, reusing, refurbishing, trade of parts and material processing regarding old mobile phones in Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria.
The two year project, implemented by GIZ and co-funded by Microsoft, according to the two firm will establish best practices involving the informal and formal sector for used mobile phones and phone e-waste, and will work towards upgrading existing practices towards environmentally sound recycling solutions.
The partnership is part of the develoPPP.de programme that GIZ implements on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Meanwhile, E-waste requires specific solutions for treatment and material recycling but poses a challenge to Africa while hosting a potential for jobs.
Speaking on the new partnership, Ulrike Vott, Microsoft Sustainability Manager for the Africa Region, explained that, “We will continue to educate users not to dispose of electronic products together with household waste. The Microsoft GIZ project will assess the existing practices and develop training concepts with a special emphasis on improvements for the micro and small scale mobile phone repairers, recyclers, refurbishers and dismantlers in the informal and the formal sector,”
Also speaking, Barbara Oelz, Advisor for waste management at GIZ in Germany, added that, “It is crucial for the success of any e-waste legislation to develop implementation guidelines that work under the local conditions. Copying legislation from the EU (as an example) will in most cases not deliver the desired result, which is the closing of the material cycle, the protection of living conditions and the environment and the creation of sustainable jobs”
Meanwhile, based on the research conducted by Microsoft and the German firm, as the continent’s consumption of electronics grows, the volume of e-waste will grow.
Electronic devices, and particularly mobile phones, according to their research contain valuable metals, plastics and other materials that can be turned into secondary raw material at value.
However, safe technologies and processes, according to the firm were required to recover the metals that make up 40 percent of a mobile phone without material loss or risk to health and environment.
By estimations, the research further revealed that for every one million phones recycled, it is possible to recover nearly 35kg of gold and 350kg of silver, which can be re-used in the production of future goods.
“While recycling of mobile phones with appropriate technology is a clean process, it is a challenge to get phones directed into the sound recycling channels. Phones even when broken are a valuable resource to many people.
“While Africa does not host many sound e-waste recycling facilities, the continent faces additional challenges. Poverty, a main challenge, can drive e-waste towards unsound physical or chemical treatment such as burning or chemical leaching, as people chose the action that provides highest possible cash back from waste this being the only accessible resource to them to create income.
“Crude recycling practices disregard the consequences to the processors ‘own health, to community safety and to the environment. These practices have to change, while businesses and livelihoods that have used opportunities in the void of missing laws and incentives, need guidance to turn into an environmentally friendly solution. Governments and expert groups have started to assess how to meet Africa’s specific challenges.
“Governments across Africa are working on regulations to set rules and responsibilities for e-waste management: Kenya is at the forefront of setting up solutions and policy including a financial structure managing effectively the producers‘responsibility, ensuring that all stakeholders providing sound collection and treatment of e-waste can be fairly recompensed. The Nigerian government, who published an e-waste bill in 2011, has recently notified industry players of its intention to begin the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility Programmes in the country” the research explained.
An effective governance structure, according to the firms was crucial to ensure a level playing field for all stakeholders while enforcing environmental and legal standards.
However, the project, according to Microsoft would assess the flow of material, the practices used, the employment involved and the risks encountered and opportunities created in Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, to then provide this knowledge to policy makers, recyclers and the public alike.
Based on the findings of the research, concepts to upgrade the existing recycling chains towards environmentally friendly processes with the goal of keeping existing jobs viable will be developed and fed into the national and international debate.