Safaricom has launched an e-waste program in Kenya, joining South African efforts to tackle a growing problem in Africa.
Under the program, Safaricom, the largest operator in Kenya, plans to safely dispose of over 20,000 metric tons of e-waste in the country by setting up collection points at its retail centers across the country.
The problem of e-waste in the region has been compounded by increasing imports of cheap and counterfeit ICT equipment into the region, without a corresponding rise in recycling capacity.
Much of the recycling that takes place in Africa occurs on an informal basis, often in uncontrolled dump sites or landfills. The problem is that most African countries do not yet have policies in place to support the establishment of e-waste plants.
Nzioka Waita, Safaricoms corporate affairs director, said the company fears that the exposure to highly toxic metals in mobile phones will have an adverse effect on people, including children and the environment.
The careless disposal of obsolete electronic equipment can cause significant health and environmental risks as a result of toxic waste. E-waste can contain significant hazardous substances, including heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine-disrupting substances such brominated flame retardants.
Although Safaricom is collecting the e-waste on behalf of Kenya, the company has not said how it will dispose of the e-waste and whether or not the disposal will be done in the country.
The Zambian government has called for the need to take action to mitigate the dangers posed by mercury to human health and the environment.
"The Zambian government is aware of the dangers posed by mercury and measures are being put in place to mitigate the dangers," said Zambian minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Harry Kalaba last week.
Like many other countries in the region, Zambia has no e-waste plants and has failed to block the entry of unusable and counterfeit electronic equipment into the country.
According to the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the countrys telecom sector regulator, Zambia has about 10 million mobile subscribers. Most of the handsets sold in the country are counterfeit devices from China that last just a few months and are disposed of carelessly.
The 2012 U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) report said that although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace.