$15m initiative to boost e-waste recycling in Nigeria

The Nigerian Government has joined forces with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and UN Environment to launch a circular economy for electronic products in Nigeria.

A mountain of electronic waste

The $15-million (£12-million) initiative aims to put an end to the improper management of electronic waste in the country, bringing together players from government, the private sector and civil society.

The project will promote the recycling of usable electronic components, whilst also developing systems for the disposal of non-usable and toxic waste. It aims to collect, treat and dispose of more than 270 tonnes of e-waste contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs, chemicals that accumulate rather than degrade in nature) and 30 tonnes of mercury-containing waste.

Speaking at the launch last month, Mrs Ibukun Odusote, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, noted that the project would support the E-waste Producers Responsibility Organisation (EPRON) – a key initiative from the Nigerian Government to promote sustainable production and consumption by encouraging producers to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products.

Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson, said: “To achieve a world without waste, we must radically rethink our relationship with natural resources and key economic systems. We need to adopt a new way of doing business that brings together all actors along the supply chain, and across entire industries.

“The Nigerian electronic waste project will put this new way of thinking into practice and is an approach we hope other African countries will adopt.”

UN Environment Executive Director, Inger Anderson, added: “The environmental and economic benefits of a circular economy are clear. This innovative partnership with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Environment Facility is a positive step in the country’s efforts to kickstart a circular electronics system, and one that UN environment is proud to support.”

Where does all the e-waste go?

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is a hugely problematic waste stream – recycling rates are low, and much of the waste ends up being exported to and informally processed in developing countries, such as Nigeria. Workers at these processing sites – often more akin to waste dumps – are exposed to hazardous substances, with the waste sometimes burned in the open air, releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Despite the dangerous conditions, many of the workers depend on sorting waste to make a living.

A UN report, published in February, highlighted the extent of the problem, revealing that 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced each year. The report outlined that, globally, an average of 20 per cent of e-waste is reported as properly collected and recycled, leaving the remaining 80 per cent undocumented – much of it is either dumped in landfill or processed in informal recycling sites.

Large-scale shipments of electronic waste from the United States and Europe are sent to Africa, with high volumes going to Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and the Republic of the Congo. Nigeria deals with over 1.1 million tonnes of e-waste every year, from both local and imported electrical items.

Read more: Nigeria’s e-waste mountain

According to the International Labour Organisation, up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste recycling sector in Nigeria. These workers commonly suffer respiratory and dermatological problems, as well as eye infections and lower than average life expectancy, as a result of direct exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Although WEEE can be dangerous, it also presents an economic opportunity. With the UN report revealing that seven per cent of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste, a safe and efficient circular electronics system could prove a fruitful investment. 

Nigeria has already been taking steps to deal with its excess of e-waste, with an investment of $2 million (£1.53m) to boost WEEE recycling announced in February this year, coinciding with the UN report.

The $15-million initiative with UN Environment and GEF comes as the next step in Nigeria’s mission to prevent the harmful impacts of e-waste, both on the environment and the thousands of people working at processing sites.

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