This essay was submitted to Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes contest.
OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The statistics on e-waste are staggering. In 2019, humans generated around 53.6 million metric tons of electronic debris globally. It is estimated that global e-waste will reach 74 million metric tons by 2030, making it the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, propelled mostly by rising consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few repair alternatives. The Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana, one of the world's largest e-waste dumps, is a result of the world's expanding need for electronic equipment as customers upgrade their devices and discard the older ones. A large amount of this electronic waste is shipped from the West, often illegally, to developing countries in Africa and Asia.
One would think that recycling and repurposing waste would assist to reduce some of the pollution. However, most e-waste recycling as it is now practiced is also not environmentally benign. Dismantling devices into component parts or recovering metals for resale is part of the recycling process. This has the potential to be a source of harmful chemical pollution. Some of these devices, such as printed circuit boards and batteries, may include over 1,000 distinct compounds, including dangerous heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and chromium, as well as other toxins such as flame retardants. Compounds discovered in this waste have been linked to significant neurodevelopmental and behavioural consequences, particularly in children. Exposure to e-waste chemicals and gases has also been linked to "inflammation and oxidative stress," which could lead to cancer.
While industrialized countries generally use well-equipped e-recycling facilities with consistent safety processes, rising regulatory requirements in these countries make recycling costly. The cost of labour also has a direct impact on the thoroughness of the recycling process, which leaves most countries in the global south being popular destinations for e-waste recycling despite their non-existent recycling facilities due to the availability of cheap labour.
Although controlling the rising usage of electronic gadgets will be incredibly difficult, it is still possible to manage the waste generated by them. The purpose of this research project is to identify an effective method for managing and regulating e-waste in African countries
IMPORTANCE AND NEGLECTEDNESS OF THE PROJECT
The effects of e-waste are consistent with EA’s cause area of health and development as E-waste includes many substances that are dangerous to the health of humans and the environment if released in an unsound manner. The improper dumping and recycling of e-waste in several African countries serves as a major source for the release of harmful substances. These harmful substances can pollute soil, water, air, dust, and food sources. Growing research has found associations between e-waste recycling and a range of adverse health effects, including negative birth outcomes, impaired neurological and behavioural development, impaired thyroid function, and increased risk of chronic diseases later in life.
This project would help identify the best possible ways for African countries to manage e-waste easing the health problems it causes on individuals who come into contact with the waste. While studies have been conducted on the effects of e-waste and various methods of recycling e-waste, African countries have been mostly excluded from developing solutions to manage e-waste. As a result, it would be a huge leap to not only discover a solution for recycling e-waste, but also to explore the most effective e-management solution for African countries, taking into account their economic situations.