The long road to recycling

It's big, it's broken and it's just too easy to toss in the landfill, but the effects it has on our food chain is dire.

20 January 2019 | Environment

It is only a matter of time before the landfills have reached capacity, when that is, we do not know. Per Hansen, CEO NamiGreen

Yolanda Nel - Although an increase in the recycling rate of e-waste was seen in Namibia last year, other statistics show that we are also one of the highest e-waste generating countries on the continent.

According to chief executive officer and founder of NamiGreen Per Hansen, more than 50 000kg* of e-waste was recycled in 2018, which is 52% more than in the period 2015-2017 combined.

“Electronic waste is basically all electronics that have reached their end-of-life, usually because it is broken or outdated,” Hansen says.

Electronics include computers, phones, printers, servers and all other electronics and gadgets. “Furthermore, e-waste also comprises things like microwave ovens, fridges, vacuum cleaners and similar items. Basically everything with a plug or cable eventually becomes e-waste,” he says.

Because electronics contain a lot of hazardous materials like lead, copper and mercury, e-waste is very toxic and should not ever end up in landfills.

“If these materials come into contact with forces of nature, the e-waste starts to erode and eventually the toxic compounds end up in our food chain.”

Erosion typically happens to ground water, then to fish and larger animals and eventually we end up eating those animals, he says.

Since these toxic compounds are linked to a wide range of diseases including cancer, neurological disorders and birth defects, he says we need to rid the e-waste from landfills and properly recycle it.

Standard practice

For many years the standard practice in Namibia was to landfill electronic waste. According to the United Nations, 80% of all e-waste generated every year on a global scale, is not recycled.

Hansen is certain that Namibians in general are more aware about recycling.

“Namibians are conscious, but there is always room for improvement – not just in Namibia but on a global scale. The main problems are a lack of awareness as well as lack of easy access to recycling stations/bins. We are trying to change that,” he said.

According to Hansen the reality in Namibia is that the country generates around 14 million kilograms of e-waste a year. “Even though e-waste should not end up in landfills, it is only a matter of time before the landfills reach capacity. When that is, we do not know.”

According to a report released by the UN, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) in July last year, Namibia ranks 7th out of 53 countries in Africa generating the most e-waste.

“On average, every Namibian citizen generates around 6kg of e-waste per year,” the report read.

In Africa, with 1.2 billion inhabitants, each person on average generates 1.9kg of e-waste a year, amounting to 2.28 billion kilograms of waste. Africa generates 5% of the world's e-waste. Of this, the collection rate of e-waste is close to 0%, according the UN's data.

Official statistics

There are no official statistics available on how much e-waste is being recycled locally, but the Namibian government is working on those numbers.

In the meantime, NamiGreen continues its growth strategy and expects to partner with more companies as well as citizens to start recycling e-waste properly.

NamiGreen e-waste already works with some of the largest companies and organisations in the country and recently installed e-waste bins at the Ministry of Education compound in Government Office Park.

“Citizens can easily recycle their electronics by placing it in one of the many e-waste bins we have in Windhoek,” Hansen says, adding that they offer companies and organisations a free e-waste collection service. It's as easy as booking an e-waste collection on the company website.

*Based on the company's internal records.

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