Helping Namibia reduce e-waste in local ecosystems

ITU

Around the globe, every living human being is producing 7.3 kilograms of e-waste, otherwise known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), every year. In 2019 alone, the world generated an estimated 53.6 million tonnes of global e-waste, according to the latest Global E-waste Monitor.

While those in developed countries produce more than their share, the problem is growing fast across the developing world, too.

And in the end, e-waste from anywhere and everywhere threatens all our ecosystems.

What is e-waste?

E-waste or WEEE can be defined as “electrical or electronic equipment that is waste, including all components, sub- assemblies and consumables that are part of the equipment at the time the equipment becomes waste,” according to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standard-setting guidance (see ITU L.1031).

Mishandling such materials can create severe consequences for surrounding ecosystems.

Improper disposal processes, such as melting or burning, can release toxins and hazardous chemicals into the air, soil, and water, affecting not only workers but also surrounding communities.

Noxious particles can travel great distances.

How can policy help?

Effective e-waste management requires coordinated efforts from everyone in the electronics value chain. Governments, crucially, must bring public and private sector stakeholders together to develop fair, inclusive, and timely national e-waste management plans.

By outlining roles and responsibilities, government-led regulation helps to limit ambiguity and discourage freeriding. International standards, such as those developed by ITU-T Study Group 5 (Environment, climate change and circular economy), can include technical guidance for national policy-makers and regulators to reduce e-waste generation, manage e-waste sustainably, and implement extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies.

EPR policies essentially make manufacturers responsible for a product over its entire life cycle. This goes beyond the use phase to include to take-back, recycling, and final disposal. All producers – including importers, manufacturers, resellers, and distributors – share some degree of responsibility for overall sustainability.

Identifying and instituting viable financial and regulatory compliance mechanisms is another way governments can make e-waste management systems more effective.

Policy development in Namibia

Namibia generated 16 kilotonnes (kt) of e-waste – equivalent to roughly 6.4 kilograms per person – in 2019. Like other kinds of waste, these remnants of once-loved phones and computers and assorted leftover components pose a serious threat to public health and the environment.

Namibia faces two challenges in terms of national e-waste recycling: large geographical distances and comparatively low current awareness among citizens.

While formally committed to environmental protection and environmentally sound investment and production systems, the country until recently lacked any specific framework or regulations governing e-waste management.

Through the ITU technical assistance programme, Namibia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has developed a draft National Policy on Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, along with an associated Implementation Action Plan.

But the disposal challenge is hardly unique to Namibia; in fact, the policy was inspired by successful e-waste regulations elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure fairness, inclusiveness and equity in the Namibian context, the policy and Action Plan were developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including government offices, ministries and agencies, local authorities, businesses, academia, and civil society organisations.

The way forward

The Namibian e-waste policy charts an ambitious way forward, upholding EPR as a fundamental principle. With the finalized draft policy now awaiting parliamentary approval, the focus has turned to setting implementation milestones.

These will include establishing a national WEEE Steering Committee – a multi-stakeholder body to oversee, coordinate and monitor policy implementation – and identifying appropriate finance mechanisms for the management of Namibia’s e-waste.

The new ITU/WEF Policy Practices for E-waste Management toolkit is a pragmatic guide that can be used by policymakers to formulate and strengthen e-waste management systems.

An Information Session on Fostering E-waste Management across Africa will be held on 17 June 2021. The session will showcase different African countries’ policy approaches to e-waste management. Learn more here.

Learn more about ITU e-waste activities here.

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