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Malawi cashing out on electronic waste despite its pollution effects

Written by  Chimwemwe Kujaliwa.

Globally, the advancement of digital technology, on digital migration, improvement in broadcast and mobile services has led to some electronic equipment being rendered obsolete. These become both a business opportunity and an environmental challenge for most African countries and Malawi is not spared.

Such e-waste is recycled but poses a danger to the environment Such e-waste is recycled but poses a danger to the environment

Electronic waste or e-waste is described as discarded electrical or electronic devices. Used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, recover, recycling, or disposal are also considered e-waste.

In a report, The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, a joint effort of the Information, Telecommunication Unit, (ITU) the United Nations University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), it was revealed that Discarded equipment, such as phones, laptops, fridges, and TVs contain substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks, especially if not treated with caution.

In 2016 at least 44.7 million metric tons of E. waste was generated globally. The electronic waste has found its way into Africa, and Malawi is not spared, in the same report, it was disclosed that Malawi produced 4000 tons of E waste in 2014 that is 0.2 kg per inhabitant, below the average in African countries of 2.3 kg per inhabitant.

However in Malawi, it is a growing business on these discarded equipments. A lot more people are cashing out on fixing or patching up these desolated equipments. In an interview with one scraper seller, James Nyengeni was so quick to express his gratitude towards the business.

“In this business am able to pay rent, school fees for my children and help my parents in the village,” he said.

One Lilongwe cell phone repairer Lameck Mandowa ably said he manages his family out of the business through selling the scraps to other traders from Tanzania who come and buy the scraps per kg.

“In a month, at least a hooping three hundred thousand kwacha is made,” he said.

The regulator, Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) communications Manager Clara Mwafulira says there is no mechanism to dispose electronic waste or a means to ensure they can be used for recycling purposes.

She says the situation possess a great health hazard to humans considering that many users are unaware of the dangerous materials that electronic gadgets contain.

“E-waste is a global concern and improper disposal of the end of life of these electrical and electronic devices releases hazardous substances that are a danger to life and environment,” she said noting that currently Malawi does not have a specific E-waste management policy.

Public Relations Officer in the Ministry responsible for Environmental Affairs Sangwani Phiri first admitted that the matter of E-Waste is a new phenomenon in the country.

He was however also quick to say that government is looking into developing a policy on electronic waste that will include the proper way of managing, reusing and recycling it.

As it now stands, the E-waste business will continue to thrive but probably it is also time for Malawi to start considering efforts towards taking care of its environment by seriously looking into the matter with caution.

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