For just 500 shillings a day (less than 4 euros), these men in T-shirts and flip-flops are on the front line of a battle against a growing threat to the environment.
Obsolete or broken, discarded electronic objects have become a global scourge. According to the UN, the electronics industry generates waste at a faster rate than any other sector, including textiles and plastics.
Long inundated with e-waste from Europe and Asia, Africa is now also facing huge volumes generated locally by the frenzy for smartphones, computers and household appliances.
In Kenya, four companies – Sintmund Group, WEEE Center, Sinomet Kenya and Electronic Waste Initiative Kenya (E-WIK) – are trying to stem this electronic tide by extending the life of these products.
Recomposed then resold
In the premises of E-WIK in Nairobi, dozens of employees carefully dismantle motherboards, batteries, screens and cables, which will constitute recomposed laptops then resold.
“When you have a working computer motherboard, you search for a power supply and from there you start assembling other components,” said George Kimani, president of E-WIK and former car mechanic.
In addition to buying waste from waste pickers, E-WIK also collects discarded electronic devices from individuals and businesses.
Liesl Smit, who lives in a private nature reserve near Nairobi, has collected an old Macintosh computer, retro typewriters and landline telephones.
“I’m so happy they’re taking them away,” says the reserve ranch manager, as E-WIK employees load her items into a truck.
“We are a nature reserve. It is important for me, and for all of us here, to know that the waste is disposed of responsibly, (…) that it will not end up in a river or that it will not pollute wild spaces”, explains she.
The market for refurbished devices – at unbeatable prices – is huge in Kenya, a country where 36% of the population lived in poverty in 2020, according to a government report.
A 28-year-old baker, Nicole Awuor has already bought a microwave and a recycled cell phone. For one reason, she says: “It’s cheaper and it’s often in your budget. »
E-WIK’s most expensive laptop costs 15,000 shillings (118 euros), a ridiculous price compared to that of a new model with similar characteristics.
“There is a market. We give them the guarantee that in the event that it does not work properly, they can always come back to see us,” assures Kimani.
But these initiatives remain insufficient in view of the magnitude of the task. With only four licensed recycling companies in this country of nearly 50 million people, East Africa’s economic powerhouse, most waste often ends up in landfills where it releases lead, mercury and other toxic substances.
The volume of e-waste collected or recycled “is not counted, and most” ends up in Dandora, a landfill the size of 20 football fields in Nairobi’s east, conceded the Ministry of Environment in 2020 .
Additionally, companies like E-WIK lack the technology to extract precious metals and rare minerals, such as cobalt, from collected waste, and thus lose the opportunity to recycle valuable raw materials.
Kenya, whose lucrative tourism sector is based on the preservation of its natural parks and paradisiacal beaches, regularly insists on its determination to protect the environment.
But rather than being incentivized by the state, existing recycling initiatives are primarily “poverty-driven”, underlines the general secretary of the Kenya Association of Waste Recyclers Richard Kainika. “Garbage pickers wouldn’t collect this waste if it didn’t have tangible and immediate value,” he said.
Recycling companies also point out the difficulties in reusing recent products, whose welded components are more difficult to dismantle and more complicated to repair.
“I like old televisions. They are easier to recover, emphasizes Peter Mutonga, employee at E-WIK: On the new models, just one small problem and they are finished. »
For barely 500 shillings a day (less than 4 euros), these men in T-shirts and flip-flops are on the front line of a battle against a growing threat to the environment. Obsolete or broken, discarded electronic objects are become a global scourge. According to the UN, the electronics industry generates waste at a faster rate than any other sector, including…
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Recovery and recycling to stem the tide of electronic waste
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