Mounting e-waste is one of the major challenges hampering efforts to cut pollution and tame climate change effects.

Kenya, like many other African countries, are particularly finding it hard to deal with the menace of electronic wastes mainly because of the lack of recycling technology and proper mechanisms for disposal.

Increased electronic waste from devices such as phones contribute to damage of the environment as they possess toxic chemicals. 

Data from the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) shows that the high rate of e-waste accumulation in Kenya is caused by the influx of affordable short-life products, mainly from Asia.

In 2016, $15.5 billion (Sh1.5 trillion) worth of Chinese phones was shipped into the country.

The government, through the ICT Authority, plans to kickstart an initiative to guide on disposal of such equipment in a bid to have a clean environment.

“We also plan to engage private sector partners on recycling plants for e-waste for the country,” said Maureen Mbaka, Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs.

Currently, the country does not have a government-led recycling system.

Tonnes of the collect e-waste is recycled on privately run recycling systems such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Centre (WEEE) which gets the waste from waste collection Centres.

The centre recycles up to 40 tonnes of e-waste monthly and has done over 10,000 tonnes since its inception.

As at June 30th the number of active mobile subscriptions (SIM cards) stood at 64.4 million up from 62.0 million posted as at March 31, according to CA.

This indicates the high phone usage even as some devices accept two sim cards.

One of the initiatives that Kenya is rolling as part of efforts to deal with e-waste is planting of trees. ICT Ministry plans to plant trees equivalent to the number of digital devices in the country.

The tree planting programme target schools and getting young children interested in planting trees and conservation.

The exercise aims to leverage on environmental conservation embedded in the CBC curriculum.

The program is part of One Tree One device initiative, under the Authority’s Digital Learning Program, which saw 1,169,000 million devices distributed to 21,638 public primary schools countrywide to early learners at grades 1 to 3 in Phase 1.

“The participation of learners in the activities is in line with the CBC program currently being rolled out under the ministry of education. I urge all schools to assist in this initiative through planting tree seedlings equivalent to the number of devices installed under DLP,” said acting CEO, ICT Authority, Dr Kiprono Ronoh.

The authority has planted over 1.2 million tree seedlings through the engagement of learners in all the 24,000 public primary schools who are beneficiaries of the programme.

The initiative is meant to address e-waste caused by the distribution of learning electronic devices in schools.

Other e-waste includes computers, monitors, televisions, stereos, copiers, printers, fax machines, cellphones, DVD players, cameras and batteries.

Last month, the authority engaged seven schools in Bomet County which are situated along the main complex to plant tree seedlings equivalent to 442 devices installed in all their schools.

These are among the 683 schools in Bomet County that have installed a total of 30,116 devices.

As a result, the authority is recommending planting one tree for each device owned, to mitigate the side effects of e-waste.

“While the availability and widespread use of electronic devices has enabled much of the global population to benefit from higher standards of living, how we produce, consume, and dispose of them after use is unsustainable. Because of this, and the slow adoption of collection and recycling then we need to move with speed to plant more trees,” added Mr Ronoh.

“With growing production and need for electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) which have become an essential part of everyday life, there is need to address the likely e-waste impact on the environment and the solutions. A good start to this cause is nurturing and educating the younger generation to understand the importance of environment conservation.”

According to the 2020 United Nations Global E-waste Monitor, every person in the world has at least 7.3 kilos of electronic waste to dispose as of today.

Only 17.4 percent of this global electronic waste, containing a mixture of harmful substances and precious materials, will be recorded as being properly collected and recycled.

In the sub-Saharan region, Kenya stands second among countries with the highest generation of e-waste in East Africa, generating 51.3 million kg, after Ethiopia which generates 55.2 million kilos.

Tanzania is third, generating 50.2 million kilos.