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African stakeholders discuss e-waste challenges at the WasteCon’08 in Durban, South Africa

e-Waste was one of the main topics at this years Waste Management Conference, and included presentations from Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

The 19th Waste Management Conference and Exhibition (WasteCon) was presented by the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa and took place at the International Conference Center in Durban. Its aim was to provide a platform to share information and build relationships in order to develop the treatment of waste and reducing its effects on the society. WasteCon enjoys an international reputation mainly on the African continent but also abroad.


Announcing the South African e-waste management model


This year, e-waste management and related subjects were among the conference's main topics. This was also emphasized by Keith Anderson's keynote at the plenary opening session. Anderson, who is the chairman of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA), announced the model the ICT industry will be following to manage their e-waste in South Africa. During the whole conference, a parallel session about e-waste subjects including a technical session and a workshop has taken place. A technical tour with on-site visits at a local e-waste dismantler closed the conference.

On behalf of the project "e-Waste Management in Africa" which has been launched by Hewlett Packard (HP), the Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and Empa, and the Swiss Global e-Waste Programme, which was initiated by the Swiss States Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) in 2003, delegates of e-waste projects in Morocco, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa were invited to attend the conference and present the status in their countries. This setup of delegates allowed diversified discussion about e-waste management on an international level.


Status in various African countries


During the technical e-waste session, status and challenges of e-waste management were presented and discussed. Between 50 and 70 people participated the sessions permanently. B. Kopacek highlighted in his presentation about the dismantling of LCD panels that an appropriate recycling technology has to be implemented as the backlight lamps contain hazardous mercury. He found that manual dismantling of LCD panels represent the most cost effective way to recover these lamps compared to other technologies. J. Lombard found that the disposal of CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) containing mercury is accompanied with hazardous environmental impacts. South Africa is replacing old bulb lamps with these more energy efficient CFLs. They will have to be managed as a separate hazardous electronic waste stream to minimize risk.

Moreover results of the Swiss Global e-Waste Programme were presented along with a preliminary evaluation of the programme's design. The programme was initiated in 2003 by the Swiss States Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) and implemented by Empa in China, India, South Africa, and since 2007 in Colombia and Peru. The programs aims were to access current e-waste management practices in various emerging economies, to design improvement recommendations and strategies and support the implementation of the most promising and urgent activities in pilot projects. To have wider impacts and further reach the program, Empa among with other international stakeholders promoted a new global platform, the StEP-Initiative (Solving the E-Waste Problem).

The South African e-waste pilot projects as well as baseline studies conducted in Kenya, Morocco, Senegal and Uganda were presented by various African authors. All above mentioned countries saw a dramatic increase of ICT equipment imports and sales in the past years. This led to the conclusion that all countries will face big volumes of e-waste within a short time frame and informal activities might increase if not addressed and organized in an appropriate way. As a common problem the transboundary shipment of e-waste was identified. Hardware declared as secondhand material stemming from industrial countries often turns out to be broken and not usable anymore. Other challenges differ along their national contexts like legal framework, policy etc.


Proceedings from the technical session can be accessed at /wastecon08.


Main challenges for Africa


Following the technical session an organized workshop aimed at identifying major challenges in e-waste management in Africa. Organized in three groups participants concentrated on challenges for the industry, the civil society and governments. Although the discussing participant originated from various African states and Europe the main e-waste issues seemed to be challenges in common and most probably applicable to other African countries as well. All groups agreed that awareness raising is crucial for all stakeholder groups and in all countries.

The industry group, mainly represented by manufacturer, industry associations and recyclers, pointed out the identification of downstream markets for the recycling and further sales of e-waste materials is one of the main challenges. Furthermore the appropriate handling of the existing informal collection and recycling sector and security issues are thought to be crucial for establishing a sustainable recycling system.

The civil society group, mainly represented by NGO, scientist and technical experts, identified the creation of multi-stakeholder platforms as the main success factor for the establishment of e-waste recycling systems. In addition the establishment of e-waste business models to ensure social benefits, such as the creation of jobs and building technical capacity, is seen as a major challenge. Other challenges include the enforcement of quality standards, producer responsibility and hardware optimization.

The government group was mainly composed of government officials from different departments and of different administration levels. Transparency and access to information is seen as a major issue. Hence the government sees its own challenges in providing data, building a control body, improving communication, and focusing on goals.


Durban Declaration on e-Waste Management in Africa


The workshop outcome was summed up in general strategies for sustainable e-waste management in Africa. Subsequently they were resumed in the "Durban Declaration on e-Waste Management in Africa" and signed by all participants


by Matthias Kolb & Mathias Schluep, Empa

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