E-waste operations in our side of the world constitute the open burning of cables to extract copper and aluminum wires provides an emblematic practical e-waste operation. Open cable burning indeed releases dioxins and furans, as well as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and various heavy metals. The dumping or open burning of plastics containing brominated flame retardants, which include internationally banned Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), provides another example of the public health and environmental hazards posed by improper management of e-waste plastics.
Upsurge of E-waste Materials
Man has always been a proficient producer of waste; however, towards the end of the 20th century, there was an upsurge of a new, noxious clutter; the electronic detritus that has come to be known as e-waste. The consumption of electronics: televisions, computers, cell phones, video games, iPods, has increased over the last few years.
The UN estimates between 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated worldwide annually.
Ironically, e-waste has become an emerging challenge as well as a business opportunity of tremendous significance. The fraction of iron, copper, aluminium, gold and other metals in e-waste is over 60% while plastics account for about 30%, with hazardous pollutants comprising about 2.7%.
The consequences of the e-waste trade and the quality of life for those participating in and living in proximity to the Agbogbloshie and other recycling hubs are particularly overlooked largely due to media sensationalism. Despite a large and growing body of research on human and environmental exposure to e-waste, the voices of the workers that participate in the e-waste regime are frequently muted and neglected. Text Box: Figure 1: Collectors and Recyclers burning cables to recover precious metals
Without understanding the life experiences of those involved, one cannot fully appreciate the challenges of practitioners in Accra/ Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi in the Central Region among other regions.
E-waste livelihood as articulated engages different categories of workers in the value chain. Some of their activities have led observers to point out the very real dangers it poses, particularly in relation to the environment and health of practitioners.
For example, heavy metals and toxic materials have been found in blood and urine of practitioners and also in the living physical environment of practitioners.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana, in developing the national e-waste strategies, recommended one important strategy to support private/public partnership projects to set up collection systems for end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment for environmentally-sound disposal.
Among other objectives enshrined in the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act 2016 (Act 917) which was passed in 2016 are to collect, safely dispose, and/or recycle electrical and electronic waste.
Relevant portions of the fund disbursement, among other schedules, are as follows:
Given the narratives above, Federation of Plastic Manufacturers Recyclers and Users, Ghana with support from BUSAC Fund and it partners, USAID, DANIDA etc. are pushing for the needed administrative and regulatory mechanism to make functional the Electrical and Electronic Waste Management Fund for the betterment of practitioners as detailed in the statutes book 3½ years without any practical action. This regulatory mechanism derived from a governmental policy will transform the socio-economic conditions of various polluted e-waste areas in the whole of the country.
As it is now, part of Act 917 is being implemented; i.e. registration for the payment of Eco Levy etc. while the other part that will ensure a stronger security and insurance of practitioners, which constitute over 60% of all the monies collected, such as, construction and management of electrical and electronic waste recycling plant and related facilities, collection centers of electrical and electronic waste and for capacity building are not being adhered to.
Government has the biggest responsibility to enforce Act 917 and operationalize the e-waste management fund as well as adhere to the tenets of the international treaties like the Basel Convention which also support a good regulatory system that enhances the effectiveness of the sector and its operators.
Daniel Yaw Mensah Tornyigah is the Director of Policy and Sustainability of the Federation of Plastic Manufacturers, Recyclers and Users, Ghana (FePMRUG)
Andy Quashie is a Research Scientist with the Institute of Industrial Research of the C. S. I. R., Ghana
ByDaniel Yaw Mensah Tornyigah and Andy Quashie PhD