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March 28, 2014

Kenya builds new recycling hub to capitalize on growing e-waste


Used electronics, like your old cell phone or computer, are one of the fastest growing sources of waste globally. Two African countries, Nigeria and Ghana, are host to processing plants built especially to deal with e-waste, and now Kenya is urgently trying to enact legislation to target disposal of used electronics.

It is estimated that 15,000 tons of used computers and mobile phones are shipped to Kenya every year, flooding in from the West, especially the U.S., adding to the e-waste generated by the new electronic goods that Kenyans are already buying.

The country’s first e-waste recycling hub is funded partially by Kenyan investors and is staffed entirely by Kenyans – many of whom had never heard about e-waste before they started working there. Now, instead of seeing the discarded electronic parts as waste, many are seeing them as a resource for generating income.

Joycy Nyawira is an e-waste collector in Nairobi and says she regularly makes 5000 shillings a month…nearly $60 —more than most in the slums and enough to support her three children.

“God is good because at least I usually get daily bread from this place,” she said.

However, the current dumps aren’t really prepared to deal with all the obsolete electronics. This is where entrepreneurs in Africa hope to innovate.

“It’s really our wish our hope that we create an east African common approach,” said Robert Truscott, CEO of East African Compliant Recycling. “Ideally with harmonized legislation, ease of moving waste between boundaries within Africa.”

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Kenya?
  2. What do you do when you throw out old electronics? Do you treat electronics any differently than regular trash?
Discussion questions
  1. What is e-waste and how is it different from regular waste?
  2. Why is U.S. e-waste being shipped to Kenya? What are the risks and benefits involved in this strategy for Kenyans?
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