BY MUSAPINDIRA MLAMBO, 10 NOVEMBER 2013
The worldwide technological revolution and globalisation has helped in increasing connectivity and trans-boundary linkages; however, this has created a new and dangerous environmental problem in the form of electronic waste (e-waste).
E-waste refers to discarded electrical or electronic devices such as TVs, stoves, cartridges, refrigerators, printers, cellphones, computers, microwaves and other electrical appliances, which would have completed their life cycles and then disposed.
An environmental disaster looms when these devices are improperly handled, transported and disposed because they contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium which pollutes both the soil and underground water.
According to the recently released United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) manual on e-waste, the penetration rate for electronic devices in developing countries has grown over the years.
In efforts to bridge the digital divide there has been an increase in the importation of second hand electronic goods to Africa. Zimbabwe has also seen an upsurge in demand for cheap electronic goods from countries such as China and Japan, however, some of these devices have ended up as junk.
E-waste needs proper handling, especially at their end of life-cycle because they contain hazardous substances, which have the potential to harm both the environment and human health. For example, research has shown that an average computer may contain up to 1 000 toxins, such as mercury and heavy metals which damages the nervous system, the brain, causes cancer and birth defects.
Legislative framework on e-waste should be put in place
The lack of policy and legislation on e-waste in Zimbabwe has also seen little action being done in the proper handling and recovery of such waste. The Environmental Management Act (20:27) prohibits the discharge of hazardous substances into the environment, but there is no specific legislation regulating e-waste.
There is the need to have a standalone legislative framework on e-waste for the country. This will help in ensuring the proper handling and disposal of e-waste.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) director general, Mutsa Chasi was recently quoted in the local media saying they are drafting a document or strategy for the safe handling and disposal of e-waste.