Industrialisation, urbanisation, technological advancement and adaptation have contributed to an increase in the production of electrical and electronic equipment. As more people own more gadgets and electrical equipment, e-waste release continues to increase, especially due to the shorter life span of products, the few options for repair and the mandatory obsolescence that has been normalised.
In 2019, nearly 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was generated globally. The average collection and recycling rates for all continents stood at 14.7% with Africa recycling only 0.9%. Coming closer to home, Kenya is said to produce 17,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. However, only 17.4% of this waste is collected and recycled. The rest ends up in landfills meaning gold, silver, copper, platinum and other valuable materials conservatively valued at $US 57 billion – a sum slightly more than half of Kenya’s GDP in 2019 – get wasted rather than being treated and reused.
But aside from the high monetary value that e-waste is valued, it also poses a threat to people’s health and the environment at large. E-waste contains mercury, sulphur and cadmium which are highly harmful materials if not properly handled.
Safaricom as a telco company recognises that handsets and decommissioned network bases are its main source of e-waste, said Sanda Ojiambo in an interview. Since the company leverages nine out of the 17 SDGs to guide its corporate strategies – among them being SDG 7 and 12 – it has embarked on a journey to reduce its carbon footprint to zero.
One of the ways the company plans to achieve this is by collecting any electronics from laptops, battery pads, TVs, and microwaves which it has been doing since 2019. The waste is collected in bins and managed separately.
During the Sustainable Business Report launch, which was held on International E-Waste day, Safaricom highlighted the essence of sustainable businesses and fostering partnerships between public and private sectors to achieve the same.
The company announced that it will work with partners and regulators to support the informal sector in e-waste management. Through the programme, Safaricom aims to create a sustainable business model which will create employment opportunities and link the sector to potential markets for its products.
Regulators are a critical part in supporting the licensing of the informal sector. Not only do they facilitate an environmentally responsible e-waste management system but they encourage consumers to dispose of their waste. This creates a sustainable infrastructure, fosters transparency in waste management operations, and increases the capacity of informal sector players.
To date, through the company’s integrated waste management programme, Safaricom has collected 1200 tonnes of e-waste. This is by working in partnership with the Waste Electrical and Equipment Centre in Nairobi, the Ministry of Environment, the Communications Authority and the National Environment Management Authority.
“We want to encourage and promote wider participation from multiple stakeholders in the e-waste management process,” said Peter Ndegwa, CEO, Safaricom.
By 2030, it is predicted that global e-waste will reach 74 metric tonnes. Besides this making e-waste the world fastest growing domestic stream of waste, it makes it the most valuable.
Safaricom is training 100 e-waste handlers and 15 electronic repairers on various practices who will then be licensed by NEMA. The e-waste programme will aim to improve the health and safety practises among informal workers in the sector.
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