African countries will need to fix their tax regimes and enact laws that require electronic equipment manufacturers to pay for end-of-life disposal, if the e-waste issue is to be completely tackled, according to experts.
The issue of e-waste is connected to the issue of used-PC imports. Uganda now has a moratorium on used-PC imports but it has became clear that a total ban would seriously hamper government efforts for e-commerce, e-learning, e-health and e-agriculture, especially in rural areas with limited income sources.
Kenya had earlier imposed a 25 percent duty and Uganda followed with a ban on used PCs in a move to rid East Africa of electronic waste from the West, often donated to communities but usually unusable.
“What we need in Uganda is to discourage people from importing very old, useless machines that are just being dumped by the West; computers that are in good condition are very good for Africa because we need an ICT revolution,” said Stone Atwine, managing director of BlissOne Media in Uganda.
The entry of the SEACOM and TEAMS fiber-optic cables and the zero-tax rating of mobile handsets and computers in East Africa has led to affordability of electronic equipment, which is compounding e-waste disposal headaches.
“We need comprehensive e-waste management policies; the seemingly new computers today will become old in a couple of months or years,” said Douglas Onyango, a member of Uganda’s IT advocacy forum I-Network.
Computer Aid International — which distributes refurbished PCs — has consistently insisted that policy must be put in place to compel the original equipment manufacturer to pay for the end-of-life recycling of their products, as currently practiced in Europe. Companies like Nokia, Samsung, Kenwood, Dell, Hewlett Packard and Toshiba already pay for the end-of-life recycling of all waste electronic and electrical equipment in Europe, Gladys Muhunyo, Assistant Director in charge of Africa at Computer Aid.
“Some of the equipments can be used for three years and others are waste; it is important for East Africa governments to develop testing mechanisms for what is beneficial to communities and what is being dumped,” said Muhunyo .
Electronic waste dumped by unscrupulous businessmen in Africa has led governments to approach all refurbished computers as waste, but Muhunyo says the problem of electronic waste has just began.
“Mobile phones, printers, computers, scanners and other gadgets that are readily available will soon be in a dump sites; the government should come up with a way to make manufacturers pay for recycling, like the West has done,” added Muhunyo.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in the European Union requires manufacturers to use part of their profits to work with recycling agents or find a way to recycle the equipment.
While many manufacturers comply with the recycling directives in the West, they are yet to make meaningful efforts in Africa. HP and Dell have set up recycling initiatives in South Africa, where the laws are advanced but the rest of Africa is yet to get the manufacturers attention.
Nokia, which dominates Africa’s mobile handset sales, is yet to initiate recycling efforts outside South Africa or to work with recycling agents to tackle the menace posed by obsolete handsets.
“Nokia is not in the recycling business; we work only with approved recyclers who meet our strict requirements and are authorized, safe recyclers,” said Dorothy Ooko, Nokia communication manager for East and Southern Africa.
While Nokia has initiatives with the U.N. Environmental Program calculated to address issues of handsets, the company says recycling plants in Africa have to meet their strict criteria before they can enter into agreement.
“The WEEE directive does not exist in Africa, in EU member states, Nokia is indirectly in charge of the collection and treatment of Nokia branded televisions and monitors as the current producers in the market at the moment share the collection cost of historic waste according to the WEEE,” Ooko added.
Given the economic challenges, Onyango and Atwine agree that total banning of refurbished computer imports is not the best solution, but taxation should be based with the age of computers. For example, with cars, importation of cars older than seven years attracts higher duties and helps rid the country of unroadworthy cars.
“Computers older than seven years would be taxed highly compared to computers that have been in operation for about five years or less; in fact, I would advocate for zero taxes on refurbished computers,” concluded Atwine.