Although ICT and electronic products have helped transform the world into a global village, there is a challenge of managing the adverse consequences of its usage and disposal. E-waste contains several hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and brominates flame retardants, etc. that pollute the ecosystem with environmental health risks to wildlife and humans. Electronic manufacturers have also, for economic gains began to rapidly produce new models to replace older models; consumption rate has therefore increased. The resultant problem is how to dispose of older devices, which, though still good, are no longer in use because they have been replaced with newer versions. Again, when electrical devices outlive their live span, managing the resultant waste becomes a problem.
E-waste is currently the largest growing source of waste globally, about 50 million metric tons is produced annually. It has a global impact on human health and the environment and the issues and challenges of addressing it are enormous for developing countries, particularly those in West Africa. Most of the e-waste that come into West Africa, notably Lagos, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana; Republic of Benin; and Cote d Voire, are imported from developed countries, disguised as second hand electrical and electronic goods, which are often dysfunctional and no longer fit for use.
One of the dangers of bad disposal is that our water ways, e.g. rivers and streams, can be polluted when these waste are disposed into them. Aquatic life, such as fish, is eventually affected and, consequently, humans who feed222 on it. Again some of these e-waste are burnt on land and fields where animals graze. These animals are eventually consumed by humans who in turn get contaminated. Another danger is that fumes emitted from the burning of e-waste are inhaled by humans who live in the immediate environment.
The scale of e-waste problem in the West African region is worrisome, particularly because the region, and by extension the African Continent generally, is being used as a dumping ground for all kinds of electrical and electronic waste, some of which come as gifts (computers and their likes) to schools. The quest to bridge the technology divide between the developed nations and the developing nations has led West African countries to embrace e-waste. Thus, the scale and magnitude of e-waste coming into West Africa and the magnitude of internally generated e-waste is predicted to escalate by 2020.
The question then is: how do we have a regional approach to e-waste management and control in West Africa? It is against this background that the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) organised a Roundtable on the topical issue of E-waste Regulation in West Africa to explore the issue and make recommendations to aid policy makers in tackling e-waste challenges in Nigeria, and West Africa as a whole.
The perspectives on the Roundtable included: E-Waste Regulation in West Africa: the Need for A Coherent Approach; Mitigation of E–Waste in West Africa: Issues, Challenges and Solutions; and Best Practices on E-Waste Management: A Comparative Analysis. Seasoned speakers made presentations on these perspectives.
Participants included key stakeholders in the field of the environment such as the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment; Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA); Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA); Traders and leaders of electronic gadgets association at the Computer Village, Ikeja; Non-Governmental Organisations; members of the Civil Society; the media; legal practitioners and environmental law students.
The Roundtable observed that -
1. E-waste has become the largest growing type of hazardous waste in the world with the UN
predicting a rise of about 40m tons per year.
2. E-waste is very diverse in composition, ranging from communication devices, to household appliances; there is, therefore, a problem of the increase in internally generated e-waste which might, in the nearest future, supersede the externally generated e-waste.
3. A study by the Basel Action Network in 2005 revealed that an estimated 500 containers of second hand containers are imported into Nigeria every month from the United States and Europe with each container containing about 800 computers; thus a total of about 400,000 computers are imported a month.
4. The study also revealed that about half of the imported second hand computers are junk, which immediately add to the local e-waste problem.
5. There is a misunderstanding of the problem of e-waste. The major factors causing the excessive buildup of electronic waste in Africa are not legal or environmental in nature but simply poverty and ignorance, which are socio-economic issues.
6. There is the problem of the manufactures conspiracy, resulting in the manufacture of electronic devices classified into grades A, B, and C; the lower the grade, the lower the quality, standard and life expectancy.
7. There are three major methods used in addressing the e-waste issue. (a) The first is an outright ban by national or international law. This method essentially confines e-waste to country of production and forces richer producer nations who are mostly the users of electronic items to find solutions to the problems they create. A drawback to this is that in a climate of rampant poverty and need as in sub- Saharan Africa, an outright ban on electronic products will be unenforceable and only drive the market on these items underground.
(b) The second is the use of “advanced recovery fee systems”, which places the financial burden of disposal of e-waste on customers while physical disposal is placed on the government. Customers are made to pay an advanced fee which is later used by the government in the physical disposal of electronic item when they become waste.
(c) The third is the “extended producer responsibility policy”. This places the burden of safely disposing of and recycling worn out electronic items on the manufacturers, at the end of an item’s life cycle it is returned to the producer for disposal.
8. The major international legal regime on e-waste is the Basel Convention on the Control of
Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal, 1992, and the 1995
Basel Ban Amendment.
9. The 1992 Convention which aimed to promote environmentally sound practices in the process of generation and management of hazardous waste attempted to put in place a regime to reduce generation, transboundary movements and transportation of environmental hazardous waste, limit the disposal of hazardous waste to as close to its source of origin as possible and criminalize the traffic in hazardous waste. Sadly, there were no specific enforcement procedure and the United States which was a major promoter of the Convention failed to ratify it, thus weakening the effect of the Convention.
10. The 1995 Amendment concentrated on prohibiting all transboundary movements of hazardous wastes which are destined for final disposal operations from OECD to non- OECD nations.
11. In West Africa, the most prominent transboundary regime for hazardous waste is the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Importation into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa 1994. The Convention prohibits the importation of all hazardous wastes into member nations for any reason whatsoever, attempts to control transboundary movement of such wastes and adopts precautionary measures in order to ensure proper disposal of hazardous wastes.
12. In Nigeria a major legal and enforcement framework on e-waste was the Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act, which established the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) with a view to establishing the basic institutional machinery for environmental management in Nigeria. The Federal Government had earlier enacted the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions, etc) Decree No. 42 of 1988 in a swift reaction to the dumping of toxic waste at Koko Port with the object of prohibiting the carrying, depositing and dumping of harmful waste.
13. The FEPA Act was replaced with the National Environmental Standards Regulation and Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, 2007 (NESREA Act). Section 7 of the Act empowers NESREA as an ombudsman of the nation’s environmental issues with functions which include, enforcement of compliance with laws, guidelines, policies and standards on environmental matters. The Agency is also required by law to establish national standards, codes and guidelines for hazardous substances. There is equally the National Environmental (Electrical/Electronic Sector) Regulation 2011.
14. Unfortunately despite the huge responsibilities given to NESREA it lacks the requisite power, skills and expertise to carry out its functions.
15. One of the problems militating against NESREA in the execution of its inspection functions of imported containers at the Nation’s seaports is that NESREA will not usually go to inspect unless it is invited by Customs.
16. Corruption, which is endemic in Nigeria, remains a major hurdle for any attempt to use the law as a solution for e-waste problem.
17. Evidence shows that most of the near “end of life” electronics that are shipped in and sold in Nigeria are done by non-professional dealers who bring in these items as part of larger goods, usually included in a container of cars. They are not declared on the importation inventory/bill of laden, thus avoiding inspection by relevant agencies, which allows them to evade regulation and avoid tariffs. This lowers their costs and allows them to price professional importers of these items out of the market.
18. Compounding the situation is the fact that Nigeria is always quick to ratify conventions and treaties but hardly ever domesticates them thereby denying the country the benefit of their enforcement locally.
19. Additionally, there is in existence many outdated and incoherent policies and regulations on the environment, which creates the problem of implementation.
20. Partisan politics has equally been a drawback in the effort to address e-waste problem in
21. Research shows that the purpose of shipment of e-waste is gradually shifting away from final disposal towards recovery and recycling operations because of the valuable metal found in electronic devices, such as gold, copper, iron, aluminium, tin, and other materials like plastic that can be extracted from e-waste and reused for other purposes.
22. Some electronic devices that have out lived their life span can be recycled. However, the cost of recycling in a developed country is usually higher unlike recycling in a developing country which is cheaper because of the relatively low cost of labour. It is for this reason that the Basel Convention allows developing countries to accept some e-waste for the purpose of recycling.
23. The Basel Convention, however, requires prior informed consent from the receiving country and all those who are going to be involved in the handling and shipping of the waste. Developing countries are more prone to accepting these wastes because of their high poverty level.
24. Of the e-waste in developed countries that is sent for recycling, 80% end up being shipped (often illegally) to developing countries such as China, India, Ghana and Nigeria for recycling. Within the informal sector of the economy of these countries, the recycling is done for many valuable materials through rudimentary techniques, which constitute serious health risks that may not allow the recycler remain alive to enjoy the benefits of such materials.
25. Globalization of e-waste has adverse environmental and health implications and more importantly for West Africa, it is estimated that certain countries in West Africa are shouldering a disproportionate burden of a global problem without having the technology to deal with it.
26. This risk is much higher in developing countries where, for example, metal that should be incinerated are burnt in the open leading to unhealthy exposure to hazardous substances during the process, release of dioxins and other harmful chemicals, abuse of labour standards and rights, use of child labour, abuse of fundamental human rights and unsafe disposal of end life waste.
27. The greater challenge and fallout from this is that e-waste workers in the informal sector are not the only ones exposed to these hazardous substances; the surrounding community, women and children are affected as well. The local community is exposed to toxic chemicals through inhalation, dust ingestion, dermal exposure and oral intake, all of these are equally a violation of the fundamental human right to life.
28. There is urgency to deal with the challenges of e-waste, it is hazardous, complex and expensive to treat in an environmentally sound manner, and there is a general lack of coherence in environmental policy and weak enforcement of applicable legislation. Today, most e-waste is being discarded in the general waste bin such as garbage collection trucks and streams.
29. The composition of e-waste is very diverse and differs across product lines and categories.
Overall, it contains more than 1000 different substances which fall into hazardous and non-
hazardous categories. The hazardous category can pollute the ecosystems with attendant environmental health risk to wildlife and humans.
30. E-waste also contains industrial chemicals classified as persistent organic pollutants which remain persistent in the environment for long periods and infect animals that feed in the environment and subsequently humans who consume such animals.
31. Exposure to lead negatively affects the haematological system, the central nervous system and the renal system, while exposure to mercury affects the sensory, visual and auditory functions and those concerned with co-ordination. The kidney is the critical organ of intoxication after long term exposure to cadmium.
32. As a result of the alarming rate of poverty in Africa there has been an increase in youth migration to Europe and America. In a bid to make ends meet these youths often go to warehouses where wastes of electronic devices and household appliances are deposited and for no fee pick these appliances ignorantly and ship them back home to Africa to be sold as second hand goods thereby heightening the accumulation of e-waste in the region.
33. The absence of a model or cohesive development plan that states clearly a comprehensive strategy for development in West Africa is a major drawback in the battle against e-waste.
34. The common adoption of European models of solutions when tackling local African issue usually leads to a square peg in a round hole situations. For example it has become common place for African nations to lack a cohesive position in negotiations on the environment and end up adopting Eurocentric positions which bear little reality to the situation on ground.
At the end of the Roundtable the following recommendations were made -
1. West Africa and indeed Africa, must arise and protect itself as ample evidence show that financial compensation is usually not adequate to undo the damage done by e-waste.
2. West African States should adopt a National Action Plan on the management of e-waste.
The National Action Plan should solicit and encourage stakeholders’ participation and also
participation from other relevant regulatory agencies.
3. A cue should be taken from ECOWAS Environmental Policy which places emphasis on dealing with economic and socio-political constraints like good governance and environmental rights.
4. Regional co-operation among African countries should be enhanced in order to speedily share information on impending danger of an intent by a developed nation to ship any form of e-waste to any African country.
5. African countries should come together and form a consensus and develop strategies and guidelines on what should be the African position as regards dealing with the problems associated with e-waste dumping in Africa. Strategies and guidelines should be developed with a view to furthering the course and countries should be encouraged to adhere to the stipulated guidelines.
6. Nigeria and other developing countries have to intensify concerted efforts at the regional level while the developed countries should continue to collaborate through financial and other forms of institutional supports.
7. Effective enforcement of national policy and legal framework should be employed towards solving the problems arising from e-waste.
8. By extension, a coherent regulatory framework for the environment should be put in place.
9. Pending the adoption of a national action on e-waste, the private sector can partner with state governments and the appropriate authorities to put in place a temporary regime on e- waste.
10. It is imperative that the legal framework of NESREA be revamped to foster effective regulatory mechanism.
11. Nigeria should honour her international obligations by domesticating relevant international conventions and resolutions into her local legislation. This will enable NESREA effectively carry out its mandate.
12. There should be a strict limitation on persons who can import used electronic items to a few registered entities to ensure standardization and ease monitoring as is done in the oil industry.
13. A national electronic item registry should be created to track electronic items nationwide as is done with cars as a means to ensure and aid the enforcement of proper disposal.
14. The Federal Government and state governments must create public awareness and enlightenment campaign for the general populace, stakeholders engaged in the importation of electrical appliances and those engaged in the recycling of dead and worn out electrical appliances on the danger of informal management of e-waste to the human health and the environment. This could be amplified by the use of social and traditional media as was effectively done in the war against Ebola.
15. Environmentally Sound Management (EMS) of waste in West Africa should be encouraged. EMS ensures that wastes and used and scrapped materials are managed in a manner that will save natural resources, and protect human health and the environment against adverse effects that may result from such waste and materials.
16. To reduce the risk resulting from the crude method employed by the informal sector in recycling worn out electronic devices, the sector should be encouraged to engage and collaborate with the formal sector in using best practices to ensure the safety of the environment and human life.
17. Politicians and law makers should equally be enlightened on the danger of going into certain contractual relationship with the developed nations for economic benefit to allow them ship unidentified electronic materials/waste into the country.
18. There should be co-operation arrangement between the Federal and state governments in matters of policy formulation and enforcement in order to have an effective management of e-waste in the country. Also at the stage of proposal and passage of law, stakeholders should be engaged if the law is to be enforceable and targeted at achieving its objective.
Professor Adedeji Adekunle