Turning E-Waste into a Resource in Kenya

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Recently, PBS NewsHour Weekend featured a piece highlighting the growing problem of e-waste in Kenya and how local officials, outside corporations, and everyday citizens are working together to improve the state of the area’s recycling industry while also creating a sustainable business model.

The problem: an overflow of e-waste

Approximately 15,000 tons of used computers and mobile phones are shipped to Kenya each year. To clean up the electronic waste, regular everyday citizens in the area slums, including women, were dangerously collecting the end-of-life equipment, often times with their bare hands, exposing themselves to potentially toxic materials. Not only were   citizens mishandling e-waste products, the country also lacked infrastructure to sort and manage the e-waste in a sustainable way.  

The solution: e-waste as a resource

In December of last year, Dell joined members of the E-Waste Solutions Alliance for Africa in Nairobi to mark the opening of East Africa Compliant Recycling – the region’s first large scale e-waste recycling facility – and the creation of a new e-waste business to be supported by a regulatory model tailored for developing countries. In addition to protecting the environment, the model aims at creating thousands of green jobs at the facility and across supporting logistics and collection networks, in part by converting existing informal-sector e-waste “pickers” into trained and legitimately-compensated e-waste collectors.

A separate Dell-sponsored project also launched in December has micro financed and created jobs for 27 women from Nairobi’s Mukuru informal settlement, known as the Mukuru slums. Following the satisfactory completion of a training course, women use funds made available to the collection point to purchase and resell waste,  the subsequently get paid through mobile phone technology. In its first two weeks, women participating in the Dell-Mukuru collected 1.5 containers of e-waste, which was resold to the new recycling hub. Women in the area are able to work for a reasonable wage and do so in a safe and sustainable way.

The future: look to Kenya as a model  

One of the most notable outcomes of the new framework is the requirement that any electronic manufacturer that sells or ships their products to Kenya be responsible for the product at the end of its life. The goal is to get other developing countries in the area to notice Kenya’s progress and look to replicate existing regulatory recycling and business models.

At Dell, we will continue to work with developing countries to tackle the growing issue of e-waste on a global scale. As part of our Legacy of Good Plan, we hope to help recover 2 billion pounds of electronics and reuse more than 50 million pounds of recycled-content plastics in its products by 2020. Integral to both goals is the ability to access e-waste in developing countries, using methods that do not put people or the environment at risk. You can view the full PBS NewsHour Weekend segment above and can learn more about Dell’s involvement in this initiative here.

Keep up with our efforts by following us on twitter: @Dell4Good #LegacyofGood

Infographic Credit: East African Compliant Recycling via PBS NewsHour Weekend

About the Author: Jean Cox-Kearns

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