With the steady advancement of global technology, people rush to buy latest technology devices such as laptops and mobile phones after disposing their old ones; thus, laying a huge burden on the planet Earth and leading to a new eco disaster in the making.
Being part of the technology speeding-up development, Egypt is witnessing a growing number of households using computers (up to 43.9 % in 2013 as per MCIT statistics) and mobile phones in use in a clear reflection to market saturation.
Egypt, therefore, will sooner or later face the same environmental time-bomb that the world has recently known - the electronic waste; and must combat the wildfire issue by means of recycling.
Recycling in Egypt, however, could be harmful to both humans and the environment. Consequently, few questions arise: what are the challenges that Egypt face; and, most importantly, how to counter bad practices?
Bad practices of scrap dealers and scavengers -mainly spotted in areas like Hay EL Zabaleen (scavengers’ neighborhood) and Mansheyet Nasser- says Green ICT program section head at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), Ms. Hoda Shakra, representing the informal sector in Egypt, are the main problem.
In unsanitary conditions, recyclers and dismantlers of Mansheyet Nasser -of which the majority are children- risk their health in trying to extract precious metals like gold, silver and copper from old e-waste. Recyclers dismantle devices, get cables out, and burn down other undesirable parts and melt copper and gold metals.
“This process causes many diseases like cancer and other respiratory complications, besides the negative impact on environment due to the dangerous gas emissions resulting from the burning process,” explains Shakra.
Unfortunately, the Hazardous Waste Law does not refer to electronic devices explicitly nor does it state any kind of penalty. It also lacks incorporating an efficient system guaranteeing a good recycling process.
“The Hazardous Waste Law allows institutions and establishments only to announce for auctions selling old waste to highest bidders causing waste to end up in the hands of unskilled scavengers once again,” says Ms Shakra.
Furthermore, the industry law allows the import of used computers of 5-year average lifespan. These devices are refurbished and showcased in the market. This, however, worsens the situation as these renewed devices are ruined faster than the brand new ones.
MCIT, Hand in Hand with the Society
Local practices still lack environmental-friendly methods unlike the good practices of the developed countries. Modern practices comprise formal channels to get rid of old devices in eco-friendly manner based on extended producer responsibility concept, elaborates Ms Shakra, where the consumer can go back to the production company to replace his old device with a new one.
MCIT, hand in hand with private and public sectors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regional and international organizations, has been exerting efforts to catch-up with the developed countries.
For the past few years, MCIT has been working on different tracks to boost the electronic waste management in Egypt by raising community awareness through holding workshops in different governorates, building capacities and creating adequate policies and regulations with the concerned ministries and government bodies, explains Shakra.
As part of the spreading awareness activities, a Green ICT portal has been developed with the aim of exchanging views and practices and updating the Green ICT and e-waste community members with the stakeholders’ latest activities and achievements, in cooperation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Looking forward to achieving sustainable management of e-waste, MCIT, in cooperation with the World Bank, works on creating a road map for the implementation of e-waste pilot project, including: economic incentives, collection strategy and the involvement of private sector and NGOs in e-waste management.
Domestically, MCIT is currently working on implementing a pilot project to apply Green Procurement specification on MCIT’s purchase in cooperation with the ITU, thus helping the s purchasing department select recyclable devices more than ever.
Promising Models in Egypt
Recyclobekia, Egyptian Electronic Recycling Co. (EERC) and Spirit of Youth Association constitute ambitious examples of local private sector enterprises working in e-waste management field.
Applying environment-friendly practices, they collect computers, laptops and other electronic devices from the private sector; or rather buy them from individuals.
Devices that can be repaired are refurbished and put in the market again, while unrepaired ones are dismantled. Aluminum scrap, valuable plastics, steel scrap and magnets are taken away, while printed wiring boards and other technical parts are exported to state-of-the-art facilities with the permission of the Ministry of Environment.
Government and stakeholders work on improving the current situation regardless how dire it is, but no situation shall ever be improved without YOUR help. Look around, you must have old electronics that are no longer used. Don’t hesitate to donate or sell your old devices using the right channels. And remember that well-recycled waste can save the environment.