Nigerian officials announced a $15 million plan on June 19 to combat the growing problem of e-waste throughout the country, and unlock the vast profit potential of a circular economy, according to the United Nations.
Currently, Nigeria’s e-waste is generally processed in informal environments that lack rigorous safety and disposal protocols. As a result, the hundreds of thousands of tons of e-waste that get processed in the country each year cause extensive harm to the health of workers and the environment.
The new initiative, launched with the support of the UN and private-sector partners, will help to formalize environmental and health safeguards throughout the e-waste processing industry and help processing facilities get the most profit out of their labor.
Informal processors dump or burn e-waste, which releases toxins into the air, soil, and water sources, and also squanders the potential to recycle and reuse products. Under the new plan, the government will develop better e-waste processing facilities and work to improve recycling rates.
“To achieve a world without waste, we must radically rethink our relationship with natural resources and key economic systems. We need to adopt a new way of doing business that brings together all actors along the supply chain, and across entire industries,” Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility, a main partner of the effort, told UN Environment.
“The Nigerian electronic waste project will put this new way of thinking into practice and is an approach we hope other African countries will adopt,” he added.
Ultimately, the scheme could be scaled to other countries in Africa and beyond, according to the UN.
Over the last decade, e-waste has more than doubled around the world, growing to 49.3 millions tons in 2016, and its expected to reach 57 million tons by 2021, according to the New York Times.
E-waste includes anything with electronic components including cell phones, computers, and appliances.
All of this waste contains hazardous chemicals like mercury and lead. At the same time, it holds valuable substances like gold. The UN estimates that e-waste contains 100 times more gold than gold ore. When handled properly, the risks of e-waste can be minimized, and its economic utility can be maximized.
However, only 20% of e-waste is processed by formal facilities, the Times notes. The rest is processed in informal settings such as open-air markets where it’s stripped and burned, sent to landfills, or shipped to low-income nations like Nigeria.
More than 100,000 people currently work in Nigeria’s informal e-waste processing industry. If the new effort is successful, then these workers can avoid hazards, while also earning more money.