As measures by countries in East and Southern Africa to prevent the dumping of e-waste take effect, West Africa has become a destination for old computers, mobile devices and components.
European Commission and U.N. studies show that West Africa is becoming a dumping site for e-waste from various parts of the world. Meanwhile, communication technology and services firm Ericsson says West Africa is becoming highly affected by e-waste, relative to other regions on the continent.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most countries in Africa do not have e-waste recycling facilities. The lack of facilities results in careless disposal of electronic products.
Ericsson is moving to address the issue, and last week partnered with mobile phone service provider MTN Benin to launch the first e-waste collection center and awareness drive in the West African country.
Ericsson has been partnering with its customers on e-waste collection and the initiative has expanded to include creating awareness about e-waste and helping to ensure that end-of-life material is treated in an environmentally sound manner, said Freddrik Jejdling, head of sub-Saharan Africa operations at the company.
"Raising awareness and preventing e-waste from ending up on the streets is part of Ericsson's social responsibility," Jejdling said.
Ghana, Benin, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Liberia are said to be among the hardest-hit countries in West Africa. In 2012, Ghana planned to ban imports of used air conditioners, television sets and used fridges, but the plans were shelved.
In 2013, the U.N. urged the Ghanaian government to support the country's recycling sector to ensure it could cope with the huge amount of e-waste that ends up there.
The careless disposal of electronic equipment can cause significant health and environmental risks. E-waste can contain hazardous substances including heavy metals such as lead and mercury, as well as endocrine-disrupting substances such as brominated flame retardants.
Much of the recycling of e-waste that takes place in Africa occurs on an informal basis, often in unmonitored dumpsites or landfills. The problem is that most African countries do not yet have ICT policies to support the establishment of e-waste plants.
Even countries that have ICT policies do not seem to have an interest in establishing e-waste plants. Zambia for example, has an ICT policy but has no e-waste plant. In East Africa, only Kenya has an e-waste recycling plant, while in Southern Africa, only South Africa has recycling plants.
So far in Africa, only a few countries, including Zambia and Uganda, have managed to impose a ban of imports on counterfeit electronic products and products, whose lifecycle generally is short.
Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa Center for ICT Development said via phone that, "Africa is facing e-waste problems because of lack of political will and also because the danger caused to human life by careless disposal of e-waste is minimized."