I remember when my brother wanted a computer so badly and would inform all our relatives who came to visit
that he needed a computer. Mobile phones were not very common then, even the computer he so much wanted was not common then, so he had to wait till they came to visit us to make his request. My parents could not afford one for him, fortunately for him, one of our relatives said he had one he wasn’t using and so brought it to him. It was one of those huge desktop computers, very bulky. It came with the system unit and keyboard, and my mother placed it on a table in the living room and covered it with a beautiful piece of cloth where it sat till we were moving from that house. I never for once saw my brother turning that computer on or even showing any interest in it. Today when I look back, I think our relative no longer needed it he wanted to get rid of the computer and so my brother’s request went to him at the right. To date, I have no idea what my mum did with that computer when we were relocating. She probably threw it away or just asked someone to come and take it away.
In our increasingly digital world, electrical and electronic devices and gadgets have become an integral part of our daily lives. From our homes to offices, to places of worship, to our playgrounds and eateries, we rely on these electric and electronic devices daily for comfort and stress-free lifestyles. Again, from smartphones to laptops, from smart TVs to gaming consoles, and blenders to washing machines, we depend on these devices for communication, entertainment, and productivity. However, as the pace of technological advancement continues to increase, so does the problem of electronic waste, which is popularly called E-waste.
E-waste as a new waste stream has gained a lot of global attention in the last couple of years. The reason is that it is not only one of the fastest-growing waste streams, but it is also one of the most dangerous waste types. E-waste refers to any electronic or electrical items that the owner no longer has use for and discards or wants to
discard. What this means is that the item can still be functioning very well, but once the owner has no use for it, it is regarded as waste. It can however be useful to another person, remember that waste is a resource. This type of waste contains toxic components and chemicals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium, and lithium that are dangerous to human health, plant life, and the environment as a whole. The presence of these chemicals in the human body can affect the brain, heart, liver, kidney, and skeletal system.
According to the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), we generated a staggering 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste in the year 2019 alone. The improper disposal and mismanagement of this waste have
far-reaching consequences for our environment, human health, and economy. The surge in electronic consumption has led to an unprecedented rise in electronic waste. Before you conclude that you are not part of the problem, just think about that earpiece or phone charger that got damaged and dropped in the dustbin. Or those cables you added to your household waste to burn. Interestingly, a lot of people do not know what e-waste is, anytime I tell people the kind of work I do, they are surprised and curious to know more about e-waste.
International E-Waste Day, also known as E-waste Day, is celebrated every year on 14th October as a timely reminder of the importance of addressing this growing issue. On this day, individuals, businesses, and organizations are encouraged to take action by raising awareness and promoting responsible e-waste recycling and disposal practices. This day is not just a mere commemoration; it’s a call to action for everyone to take steps towards managing e-waste in an environmentally friendly manner.
This year, the theme for the celebration is ‘You can recycle anything with a plug, battery or cable!’ and the highlight is on the issue of invisible e-waste. Invisible e-waste refers to the electronic items that often fall under the recycling radar of those disposing of them because they are not seen as e-waste. What this means is that when they are no longer required or in use, they should be recycled as e-waste. Unfortunately, they get lost or mixed up with other waste types, and hence are not treated as e-waste. Some examples of inviable e-waste include clothes that are powered electronically, e-cigars, headphones, EarPods, remote controls, toys, and so on.
Some of these gadgets remain in the drawers and cupboards and when this happens, the valuable resources they contain do not re-enter the manufacturing cycle.
In many homes in Ghana and across the world, e-waste is treated as other household waste, the majority of this waste stream ends up in landfills or gets burnt. Those that do not end up this way are either sent for repairs or just left in the home. When e-waste ends up in landfills or is disposed of improperly, it can release harmful toxins into the environment, contaminating soil, water, and air. The Government of Ghana and other stakeholders in the e-waste space are making efforts to educate the Ghanaian population on this new waste type and put in place measures to ensure that it is managed more sustainably. For example, the EPA through the World Bank is establishing Collection Centers, Dismantling Centers, and Holding Centers (CC-DC-HoC) for e-waste in selected regions in the country. These centers will serve as a point for individuals and organizations to submit their e-waste for proper recycling and disposal.
While we wait for these centers to be established and fully operationalized, it will be useful for us as individuals to read the manuals that come with our EEE, most manuals will give instructions on how to dispose of these EEE when they come to their end of life. Some also advise that you take them back to a sales point, many of these are not available in Ghana. What you can however do is to separate your e-waste from other household waste. Give them to any of the scarp collectors who go around looking for scraps, though many of them dismantle them using very crude and rudimentary methods, some of them know exactly where to take them, for proper management. Whenever you are about to discard any EEE that you don’t need anymore, please do not put it in the dustbin in other household waste, remember that it doesn’t belong there.
To be able to deal with poor e-waste management, we need to be more conscious when it comes to dealing with this waste type. Being conscious means that we have to stop burning them, we have to stop sending them to
landfills and dispose of them properly.
International E-Waste Day reminds us of the vital role we all play in addressing the e-waste crisis. Making conscious choices about our electronic devices, disposing of them responsibly, and supporting recycling initiatives are some of the ways we can reduce our digital footprint and work towards a more sustainable future. Let’s embrace this opportunity to take action and protect our environment for generations to come.