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Cleaning Up Electronic Waste in Africa

6/16/2010 10:45:08 AM

Tags: Electronic waste, Recycling

As technology zooms toward the future, gadgets are phased out rapidly, creating piles of electronic waste, or e-waste. On average, Americans only keep electronics for 3.8 years. In the U.S. we have ways to manage the electronic disposal, but it is a heaping problem in east African countries such as Uganda.

Worldwide we throw away more than 40 million tons of electronic equipment a year. Some of those items could be reused or recycled. The ways old computers and monitors are reused or disassembled matters as well. Areas of east Africa have seen volumes of “cloned” machines come in. These machines are just pieces and parts of nonbrand machines. But they soon fail, sometimes within three months. Those $400 investments only have an average life span of 18 months. So what happens to those computers once they are just plastic and metal junk?

A lot of the electronics in east Africa will just reach a landfill and sit there. This causes problems not just for the land, but for the water supply as well. The metals and chemicals seep through the soil, contaminating and polluting the environment as they sit there, and human health risk is involved when people scrap the metal and copper out of machines.

Thankfully, solutions are starting to develop to change harmful habits and transform the way electronics are handled.

Organizations are stepping in to clean up this problem and offer better services. The Ewaste Foundation, a nonprofit out of the Netherlands, arranges safe disposal sites and works with people to set up e-waste programs. The funds come from certificates that people from around the world can buy to offset their e-waste. The donations go directly toward cleaning up electronic waste in developing countries. All someone has to do is go to their website, find their e-waste footprint and donate.

Another solution to e-waste is closer to home. In Omaha, Neb., Computers for Africa (CFA), a nonprofit organization started in 2000, sends computers to East Africa, mainly Uganda. The computers are cleaned, tested and ready to go. Having a safe investment that will last around five years is important when you live in a country with a daily wage of $2.

CFA aims to keep the prices low and to also provide quality and service. The organization does this by working in a cluster model, meaning it sets up in one area and continues developing around that area. This technique maximizes the financial and human efforts. To date, CFA is serving 132 communities and has brought in 2,232 refurbished PCs in its 10 years. The organization also provides training for the Internet and computer repairs.

All of the computers shipped out of Omaha, Neb., are donated to CFA. Computers, monitors, cables and hubs can all be cleaned up and put in working order. All the other services come from monetary donations. According to their donation site,

  • $35 creates two refurbished computer systems. 
  • $50 gives 14 students access to computer education and the Internet all through high school. 
  • $100 provides 50 hours of PC repair training for a teacher. 
  • $200 connects a CFA lab to the Internet. 
  • $350 creates a complete 20-computer lab. 
  • $1,800 gives an African school a "new" lab, sets it up, trains the teacher in PC Maintenance and Repair, installs the Internet and provides Internet workshops for all the teachers. 

CFA also has a “Mouse on a Mission.” This program allows someone to donate $25, and in return a mouse is donated in their name. That mouse will go along with a refurbished computer and provides follow up service for the computer. 

So as developing nations are latching on to technology, they will need e-waste plans just like the U.S. To help those efforts and figure out what to do with your used electronics, check out the Ewaste Foundation or CFA. 

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