E-waste refers to electronic products that are close to the end of their useful life. Computers, televisions, iPads and DVDs – which have replaced most of the VCRs, stereos, telephones, copiers, and fax machines – are some of the examples of electronic products common in Namibia. In many developing countries there is no dedicated legislation dealing with e-waste, and Namibia is no exception.
The Namibian Constitution promotes sound environmental management and development of policies. In addition, the Namibian Environmental Management Act protects and promotes environmental management and has set out provisions regarding the handling of waste and punishment of waste producers through fines and imprisonment. Namibia is signatory to many international legal frameworks on waste management.
Namibia should be proactive in its approach by enacting an e-waste Act because the national population is increasing, technologies are advancing and there are many economic activities taking place. It is important to note that the business innovation environment ranked at 87th place according to the Global Information Technology Report of 2012, which is not bad at all compared to other countries. These economic activities are potential contributors the production of e-waste.
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, together with the Communications Regulatory Authority in Namibia (CRAN), who are in charge of promoting and regulating the use of ICT, should articulate policies and strategies for dealing with discarded ICT devices.
The Namibian ICT industry could emulate the Nokia company that is involved in take-back schemes in the European Union, Australia, part of Latin America and Asia. In 2006, around 500 Nokia care points in China started to collect used phones, with China Mobile offering prepaid cards as an incentive to recycle.
Samsung Electronics on the other hand has developed voluntary take-back programmes for its products at the end of their working lives in North America, Europe and Asia. This responsibility includes ensuring that all collected products are recycled in the most efficient way.
According to Computerworld Zambia, MTN South Africa rolled out e-waste collection points at key publicly accessible sites including schools, shopping malls and many other public places in a bid to collect mobile-phone e-waste, regardless of network operator or handset manufacturer.
In the absence of laws on how to dispose used ICT equipment, Zambia, like many other countries in Africa, uses the technology- and service-neutral approach, which requires that all imported or exported ICT equipment must meet international standards.
But many companies and individuals fail to adhere to the policy, raising fears of health and environmental damage due to hazardous toxic waste. This has forced Uganda to ban imports of used ICT equipment, while Zambia warns it will be forced to impose a similar ban if the dumping of old ICT equipment continues.
In the East African region, only Kenya has e-waste management plants. They were set up by Hewlett-Packard, the Ireland-based Camara education organisation and Consumer for Schools in Kenya in collaboration with the National City Council of Kenya and the Local Embakasi Community. In the Southern African region, only South Africa has e-waste recycling plants, provided by private companies.
A private entity in Namibia, Transword Cargo, has taken an e-waste initiative which is welcomed and supported by the Namibian ICT Alliance.
Namibia must prepare herself before it becomes a victim of e-waste. Peter Madden and Ilka Weißbrod will say “by acting now, we can turn an e-challenge into an e-opportunity.”
* Lena Kangandjela holds a B.Juris, LLB (Honours) from the University of Namibia and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Information and Technology Law with the University of South Africa. She has been working in the ICT industry since 2010, serving as a director of Namibia Post and Telecom Holdings.