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.

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