30-year-old Fatma opens her drawer to find a box full of old, unused gadgets and smartphones that she has no idea what to do with or how to dispose of safely.
Fatma is not alone in being uncertain about what to do with old gadgets. Egypt produces almost 90,000 tons of e-waste a year, 58 percent of which comes from the private sector, 23 percent from households, and 19 percent from the public sector, as reported by Enterprise quoting Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad. A bulk of that figure comes from the ICT and telecoms industry that alone produces 66-73 tons of that figure, while other sectors comprise the remainder; Tarek El Araby, head of the Waste Management Regulatory Authority had been quoted in the same article.
Recent United Nations data indicates the world generated a staggering 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, and only 17.4 percent of that was recycled.
“There was a lack of awareness from the consumer about the importance of recycling electronics,” Ahmed Salem, general manager of the Egyptian Electronics Recycling Company (EERC) says. The company was founded over seven years ago and its main purpose is electronic wastes recycling and reducing environmental hazards.
“There wasn’t a law that regulates the recycling of electronic waste in Egypt until 2020, so business owners were getting rid of electronics in a dangerous way that affects the environment,” Salem says, explaining that businesses were getting rid of electronic wastes by burning them, which causes environmental hazards. When electronic waste is disposed of informally by disassembling, shredding, or melting the components, dust particles or chemicals are released into the atmosphere, causing air pollution and harming respiratory health. This in turn can impact some animal species with risks of endangering them and affecting biodiversity in severely polluted regions.
This improper e-waste disposal can also negatively affect the soil. Metals and flammable substances can cause a contamination of underlying groundwater or contamination of crops. When the soil is contaminated by heavy metals, the crops become vulnerable to absorbing these toxins, which can potentially cause disease and negatively affects land fertility. Not only are the chemicals in e-waste harmful if treated incorrectly, they are also wasted scarce mineral deposits that could be channeled for better use. Recycling e-waste would allow us to extract and reuse some of these metals, decreasing our dependence on mining going forward.
Salem added that the Egyptian law number 202 for the year 2020, helped tremendously in the legislation process of e-waste management. The law states that only authorized factories under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment. These factories are authorized to get rid of the electronic wastes and recycle it.
Recycled e-wastes is a valuable asset
According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), recycled and refined e-waste can yield valuable metals such gold and copper, as well as other raw materials that can feed local industry or become a lucrative export. In Egypt, it has been estimated that about 20 percent of e-waste is locally recycled, and the rest goes directly to uncontrolled landfills, causing serious impacts on health and the environment.
A research study by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Knowledge Fountain in 2019 shows that less than 5 percent of Egypt’s e-waste is recycled by authorized entities. The rest is illegally disposed of in hazardous ways such as burning. There are 14 authorized factories that work under the supervision of the E-waste Management Regulatory Authority, and are responsible for ensuring a safe recycling process for electronic waste.
According to the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), daily generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in Egypt is estimated as 0.3 to 0.8 kg/capita. In addition, there is 6.2 million ton/year of industrial waste that includes 0.2 million ton of hazardous waste.
How does sustainable waste management system work?
The framework for integrated sustainable waste management (ISWM), seen in Figure 1, was created by the Dutch non-governmental organization WASTE in the mid-1980s. This framework is used for solid waste recycling in most countries around the globe
Initiatives by the private sector
There are several initiatives in the private sector with regards to e-waste management. E- Tadweer application is one of them. E-Tadweer is an online application that facilitates electronics recycling for the consumer.
According to Mohamed Abdelfattah, communication manager at E-Tadweer, there is an increase in the awareness level about the importance of recycling electronics.
Abdelfattah added that large corporates such as Vodafone and Raya are collaborating with E-Tadweer. Vodafone designated several of its branches as drop-off points, where consumers can drop off their old gadgets. Raya company is also making its stores available as drop-off points and is handing out 5 percent discount vouchers redeemable at Raya shop to encourage customers to get rid of their old gadgets safely. Abdelfattah added that “Live Green” initiative facilitated the awareness process for E-Tadweer. Guided by the National Strategy for Sustainable Development Egypt 2030, “Live Green’ is an initiative by the Egyptian government to spread environmental awareness. The initiative aims to reduce air and water pollution by 50 percent.