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08.04.2008 Feature Article

Ghana, An E-waste Junkyard?

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What do we do with tons of E-waste in our midst?

Eric is a second year student at the University of Ghana, Legon. He is saving for a laptop computer and has the desire to buy an IPod. He says his cell phone is old- fashioned so he needs a “smart phone “---a euphemism for a device loaded with an Mp3, camera, video camcorder, radio and GPS capabilities. He is not the only one.

These days one's social status is somehow measured by the kind of electronic gadgets he/she owns. Nothing gets public attention than the latest, thinnest and newest model of a cell phone or an electronic device. But what do we do when there is no life left in what we earlier used?

To keep up with the latest technology some people pass their old device to their family members or friends. But, the majority holds on to their old devices, even if there's no life left in them. They seem to think that there's something wrong about throwing away a computer or a TV set or a cell phone they paid so much for. Sometimes, these electronic devices are left in rooms or closets collecting dust. Others inevitably ended up in the neighborhood's landfills. Welcome to the global village's grave yard.

We're already under siege of plastic waste problem. For years we haven't been able to mange our plastic-crazy economy –which is not only causing soil degradation and water pollution but also threat to our health. The discarded plastic wastes are wind, air or water driven into gutters and drainage system. Much of our neighborhood has been turned into the breeding quarters for unfriendly mosquitoes.

As if that is not enough of a headache, now we have another waste to manage. What do we do with all the e-waste-- ranging from television, computer, printers, cell phones and other good for nothing devices?

Ghana being part of the global village undoubtedly has its share of the world's ever-increasing e-waste. The country is virtually becoming an appropriate final resting place for ageing computers, televisions, Ipod, cell phones, printers, and other electronic devices. The country is becoming a final electronics dumping ground. But, there seem to be no plan in place to manage this emerging e-waste menace.
We have no idea on where and how to dispose of the unwanted electronic items, many of which are environmentally hazardous. I am even tempted to believe that Ghana as a country has not yet woken up to the dangers associated with this mess.

It is abundantly clear that there is no end in sight for our quest to catch up with demand for electronic gadgets. Consequently, our chances of being swamped by electronic waste have increased very remarkably.

Most of these devices are composed of substances like mercury, lead and cadmium that can be so poisonous to our soil, water bodies and even the air that we breathe. It is therefore not a surprised that the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana has declared Fosu- Lagoon, in Cape Coast as dead.

According to the news report, debris from adjoining mechanical shops have over the years emptied into the lagoon so much so that any fish caught in that Lagoon was declared unsafe for consumption. I am aware efforts were in the past directed to rejuvenate aquatic life in Korle Lagoon, can I ask how far we have gone with that project?

The question is what can we do with the tons of devices we cannot use, give away or are beyond repairs? Right now there is not much we can do than stop buying these devices. But our next bet is to do the following:

1) Let's tap the skills of the computer and net junkies who congregate in net café to help in the electronic waste recycling process.

2) The government can enter into arrangement with the manufactures of these devices to make them take back the unusable devices. In the US for example, some companies like Apple, Dell, Sony, and HP accept mailed-in equipment or offer collection days. We can also require them to have similar arrangement with Ghana, where old devices could be collected and shipped out.

3) A user fee should be charged for a brand-new device, imported to set up a fund for e-waste ecology Depot, which can manage our 21st century e-waste.

4) The citizens should be educated about the dangers of the e-waste and how to mange it.

5) The Environmental Protection Agency should incorporate e-waste recycling into its program.

6) The EPA must be seen to be more proactive other than reactive. In the case of Fosu- Lagoon one will ask what has been the Agency's role until the Lagoon was found dead.

7) Our vocational and technical schools should tailor their studies to reflect our technical needs.

8) Incentives to recycle old devices should be encouraged by the government and cell phone providers and ICT companies.

As usual, our policy makers and the politicians will ignore the e-waste problem. In its place, they will come up with all excuses in the world to justify why we can't do it. But, that won't stop the devices from coming into the country. In an election season like this, they will try to push it under the carpet and pretend it will go away.

But, we owe it to our kids and the next generation to clean up our mess and leave them with environmentally safe country. Is this too much to ask from our leaders? I hope not!

What is your role in all that? We all have to chip in to solve this problem.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi
Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi, © 2008

The author has 206 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KwakuAduGyamfi

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