NUST, EMA in new study to battle rising electronic waste in Zimbabwe Mr Ncube

Sifelani Tsiko
Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor

The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) and the Environmental Management Agency have embarked on an 18–month study to determine the impact of waste generated by internet use and how this could be mitigated for a sustainable future of the country.

Principal investigator and NUST senior lecturer, Mr Smart Ncube told The Herald at the launch of the study recently, that there were none or a few high-level studies that had been done on carbon emissions of the Internet as a whole and the toxins and waste generated by Internet use.

The joint study titled: “Towards a Green Internet Ecosystems Framework for Zimbabwe,” aims to develop a comprehensive framework for a sustainable internet ecosystem in Zimbabwe.

“The major aim of this study is to develop a green internet ecosystems framework for Zimbabwe that mitigates the negative environmental impacts of internet-related activities while promoting sustainability and economic growth,” he said.

“This project places Zimbabwe on the global map and helps the country to amplify its voice on the global arena in terms of our presence in solving environmental problems. As a country we have always been on the receiving end in terms of the dumping of e-waste.

“This study can inform our policy makers to come up with robust measures to curb e-waste dumping. We can place a limit in terms of the electronic products that can be allowed into the country if they are second hand. We can also pile pressure on the producers by telling them that we can only buy products that meet the requirements in terms of environmental compliance.

“If they don’t meet, then we are not going to accept them. Africa has been the dumping ground and this should not be allowed to continue.”

Ncube said the study will also assess existing green-friendly policies, evaluate compliance with green practices and examine green knowledge and attitudes.

In addition, researchers will identify challenges and opportunities, develop a comprehensive green internet framework and promote stakeholder engagement and awareness.

The research is funded by the Internet Society Foundation.

“No one has the facility or infrastructure to recycle e-waste in Zimbabwe,” said NUST director of ICTS, Prof Vusumuzi Maphosa.

“Only Econet is shipping e-waste to Dubai, where a Zimbabwean–owned firm is recycling the waste.”

He said e-waste had a lot of negative consequences on Africa’s environment and human health.

“Africa is only recycling 0,1 percent of e-waste. About 80 percent of global e-waste is shipped to the global south. The north industrialised countries are shifting the burden to the poor countries in the south,” Prof Maphosa said.

“The impact can be dire and e-waste has a lot of negative consequences on human health. A cell phone battery can contaminate 600 000 litres of water. We need to enact e-waste policies quickly to protect our environment and human health.”

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) official, Mr Maxwell Maturure said: “The research project we are gathered here to discuss on has been necessitated by the need for the country to formulate a sustainable framework that covers all facets of internet ecosystems with a clear guide to strategic decision making.

“EMA views this framework as a very important step in ensuring that future generations are protected from the health-related impacts of the internet ecosystem.”

Zimbabwe’s second solid waste survey done in 2023 revealed that solid waste generation has increased from 614 840 tonnes per year in 2011 to 1 007 996.9 tonnes per year in 2023 —  an increase of 63,9 percent.

“The statistics inform the nation that if no effective and efficient strategies are put in place to reduce waste generation at design, manufacturing, distribution and user level, the impacts to the environment and humankind will continue to increase and negatively affect attainment of the country’s vision 2030,” Mr Maturure said.

“Although the numerous advantages of the internet are enriching our society, it should be remembered that the internet also consumes energy, embraces toxic pollution and produces electronic waste.

“To increase the benefits and reduce the harm of the internet of things there is a need to move toward greening this space by reducing institutional carbon footprints and promoting efficient techniques for energy usage.”

Human health related disease and conditions as a result of components from internet devices that include diodes, capacitors, resistors and batteries that contain metals (arsenide, cadmium, zinc chloride, lead) calls for proper disposal of such devices, the EMA official said.

“The disposal of these devices is currently not properly coordinated yet they pose great risk to the environment as an emerging issue but also offers an opportunity for innovation in the recycling sector.”

In a 2024 report, the Sustainable Cycles Programme at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) found 62 million tonnes of mobile phones and devices were dumped on the planet in just one year — and this is expected to increase by a third by 2030.

Environmentalists say electronic waste, also known as e-waste, consists of any discarded items containing an electric plug or a battery and often contain toxic additives and hazardous substances such as mercury that pose environmental and health hazards.

In 2022, the world’s annual output of e-waste stood at 62 million tonnes up 82 percent from 2010. The generation of e-waste is rising by 2,6 million tonnes annually and experts fear it could reach 82 million tonnes by 2030.

Environmental experts attribute this increase to factors including higher consumption, a lack of repair options, shorter life cycles for electronics and inadequate infrastructure to manage e-waste.

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