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E-Waste and Africa

You may have heard the expression “when America sneezes the whole world catches a cold” being said in the context of the global financial economy. The same may be said in regards to first world countries, vis-a-vis the developing world, when referring to the generation of e-waste and its effect on the natural environment of developing countries. E-waste is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”) as any appliance using electric power that has reached its ultimate life span.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (“UNEP”), in 2010 an estimated 62.5 to 125 tonnes of e-waste associated cable found its way to the informal burning sites of Accra, Ghana alone. These figures should be enough motivation for developing countries to enact stringent legislation and formulate comprehensive environmental policies to curb the practice of using poor countries as “dump-sites” for more economically powerful countries.

The so-called benefits of importing e-waste, such as extracting valuable metals, are infinitesimal when compared to the long term environmental damage caused by e-waste. For as long as the developing world is accessible either by having lax laws and/or turning a blind eye to the growing menace, developed countries will not refrain from the environmentally abusive practice. The matter is, however, not one sided. In accordance with multilateral
agreements such as the Basel Convention, Bamako Convention and the Rotterdam Convention, developed countries also bear a duty to formulate environmental policies and laws that will, at the very least, impose a reasonable punitive measures against persons intentionally exporting de facto e-waste to developing countries. Moreover, such policies would have to concentrate some effort into championing domestic recycling, and perhaps
even subsidizing the costs attached thereto.

E-waste by its very nature consists of environmentally hazardous components. It is therefore imperative that all countries give due regard to existing international, regional, and domestic laws to regulate the disposal of e-waste, with the intention of protecting environmental media in poor countries.

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