Population growth, increasing prosperity and changing consumer habits globally are increasing demand for consumer electronics.
Further to this, rapid changes in technology, falling prices and consumer appetite for better products have exacerbated e-waste management challenges and seen millions of tons of electronic devices become obsolete.
This rapid literature review collates evidence from academic, policy focused and grey literature on e-waste management in Africa.
This report provides an overview of constitutes e-waste, the environmental and health impacts of e-waste, of the barriers to effective e-waste management, the opportunities associated with effective e-waste management and of the limited literature available that estimate future volumes of e-waste.
Africa generated a total of 2.9 million Mt of e-waste, or 2.5 kg per capita, the lowest regional rate in the world. Africa’s e-waste is the product of Local and imported Sources of Used Electronic and Electrical Equipment (UEEE).
Challenges in e-waste management in Africa are exacerbated by a lack of awareness, environmental legislation and limited financial resources. Proper disposal of e-waste requires training and investment in recycling and management technology as improper processing can have severe environmental and health effects.
In Africa, thirteen countries have been identified as having a national e-waste legislation/policy.. The main barriers to effective e-waste management include: Insufficient legislative frameworks and government agencies’ lack of capacity to enforce regulations, Infrastructure, Operating standards and transparency, illegal imports, Security, Data gaps, Trust, Informality and Costs.
Aspirations associated with energy transition and net zero are laudable, products associated with these goals can become major contributors to the e-waste challenge. The necessary wind turbines, solar panels, electric car batteries, and other “green” technologies require vast amounts of resources.
Further to this, at the end of their lifetime, they can pose environmental hazards. An example of e-waste associated with energy transitions can be gleaned from the solar power sector. Different types of solar power cells need to undergo different treatments (mechanical, thermal, chemical) depending on type to recover the valuable metals contained. Similar issues apply to waste associated with other energy transition technologies.
Although e-waste contains toxic and hazardous metals such as barium and mercury among others, it also contains non-ferrous metals such as copper, aluminium and precious metals such as gold and copper, which if recycled could have a value exceeding 55 billion euros. There thus exists an opportunity to convert existing e-waste challenges into an economic opportunity.