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Navigating Nigeria’s E-Waste challenge: A Call for Vigilance and Action

By Faridat Salifu

Amidst Nigeria’s economic challenges, the influx of electronic waste (e-waste) has emerged as a critical issue, posing significant threats to public health and the environment.

Recent surveys conducted in Lagos reveal alarming volumes of imported electronic equipment, underscoring significant gaps in monitoring and regulatory enforcement.

In bustling hubs like Computer Village, International Market, Oshodi Market, Lawanson Market, and West Minister, imported e-waste totals have been quantified, with figures ranging from 15 to 100 tonnes per location.

Despite government assertions of reduced imports due to enhanced monitoring efforts, civil society groups argue otherwise, citing a doubling of figures amidst ineffective oversight mechanisms.

Globally, the e-waste predicament is staggering. Reports from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicate that up to 90% of the world’s e-waste, valued at nearly $19 billion annually, is illicitly traded or improperly disposed of. This clandestine trade not only undermines environmental protections but also perpetuates health risks associated with toxic components like mercury and flame retardants found in discarded electronics.

The scale of e-waste extends beyond visible imports, encompassing a vast array of unnoticed items such as unused cables, electronic toys, and LED-decorated novelty clothes, collectively contributing to billions of kilograms of unacknowledged waste globally each year.

This “invisible” category represents a substantial challenge, equivalent to the weight of nearly half a million 40-tonne trucks stretching over 5,640 kilometers—highlighting the hidden dimensions of the e-waste crisis.

Against this backdrop, the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor (GEM) underscores a troubling trend: while global e-waste production has surged to a record 62 million tonnes in 2022—an 82% increase since 2010—recycling efforts lag behind, exacerbating environmental pressures and resource depletion. Projections indicate that e-waste generation could reach 82 million tonnes by 2030, underscoring the urgency for robust global strategies.

Nigeria has made strides in e-waste management through legislative frameworks like the National Environmental Regulation of 2011, which prohibits e-waste imports and promotes sound waste management practices.

However, challenges persist in translating policy into effective action on the ground, necessitating stronger enforcement and capacity-building initiatives.

The introduction of the E-Waste Producer Responsibility Organisation (EPRON) represents a pivotal step forward, mandating manufacturers and importers to take responsibility for their product life cycles. By fostering a circular economy approach, EPRON aims to enhance recycling rates and reduce environmental impacts while encouraging innovation in sustainable technologies.

Addressing Nigeria’s e-waste challenge requires collaborative efforts across government, industry, and civil society. Strengthening monitoring mechanisms, enhancing regulatory compliance, and promoting public awareness are crucial to mitigating the adverse effects of e-waste. By prioritizing sustainable practices and environmental stewardship, Nigeria can chart a path towards a cleaner, safer future for all.

In conclusion, tackling Nigeria’s e-waste dilemma demands collective vigilance and decisive action. By fortifying regulatory frameworks and fostering a culture of responsible consumption, Nigeria can pave the way for sustainable development and safeguard the well-being of its citizens and ecosystems alike.

Since the passage of the National Environmental (Electrical/Electronic Sector) Regulation in 2011, Nigeria has embarked on a journey to regulate and manage electronic waste more effectively.

However, the implementation of this legislation remains a work in progress, marked by ongoing challenges and environmental concerns.

Despite the ban on e-waste imports and guidelines for environmentally sound management, various types of electronic waste continue to infiltrate Nigerian markets. This loophole undermines efforts to curb the environmental and health hazards associated with improperly handled e-waste, which often contains toxic substances like mercury, lead, and brominated plastics.

Informal workers in Nigeria’s e-waste recycling sector, estimated at approximately 100,000 people by the International Labour Organisation, bear the brunt of these dangers. They endure respiratory issues, dermatological problems, and lower life expectancy due to direct exposure to hazardous chemicals during the dismantling and recycling processes.

The environmental toll of this informal recycling is profound. Annually, Nigeria sees over 52,000 tonnes of flame retardant plastics, 4,000 tonnes of lead, 80 tonnes of cadmium, and 0.3 tonnes of mercury released into the air, water, and soil through improper disposal methods such as burning or dumping.

These pollutants pose significant risks to human health and ecosystems, highlighting the urgent need for stricter enforcement and sustainable waste management practices.

Recognizing these challenges, the Nigerian government has intensified efforts through initiatives like the E-Waste Producer Responsibility Organisation (EPRON). Under the revised regulations, all stakeholders—manufacturers, importers, waste collection centers, and recycling facilities—are required to register with EPRON.

This initiative aims to create a financially self-sustaining circular electronics network, promoting resource conservation, increased recycling rates, and the development of eco-friendly alternatives.

Prof. Aliyu Jauro, Director General of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), emphasizes the pivotal role of EPR in Nigeria’s waste management agenda. He underscores the progress made since the gazetting of regulations in 2009, despite ongoing challenges.

Ibukun Faluyi, Executive Secretary of EPRON, acknowledges the crucial support from private sector partners in advancing the EPR system in Nigeria. Their collaboration is instrumental in driving sustainable practices and mitigating the adverse impacts of e-waste.

Looking forward, Nigeria faces a dual imperative: enhancing regulatory enforcement to stem the influx of illegal e-waste imports and bolstering support for formalized recycling processes.

By fortifying these efforts, Nigeria can mitigate environmental degradation, safeguard public health, and pave the way for a more sustainable electronic waste management framework.

Addressing Nigeria’s e-waste challenge demands concerted action at all levels—government, industry, and civil society. By prioritizing regulatory compliance, innovation in recycling technologies, and public awareness, Nigeria can turn the tide on e-waste, ensuring a cleaner, safer future for generations to come.

In recent statements, Mrs. Faluyi emphasized the urgent need for all stakeholders—manufacturers, assemblers, importers, and distributors—to fully embrace their roles in managing product lifecycles responsibly, ensuring both environmental sustainability and social welfare.

Addressing the surge in e-waste flooding Nigerian markets, experts, including Dr. Leslie Adogame from SRADev Nigeria, attribute the trend to economic factors favoring affordable used electronics imports.

Adogame highlighted challenges faced by enforcement agencies like NESREA, citing their inability to effectively monitor e-waste imports and sales across the country.

Despite the 2011 enactment of the National Environmental Regulation banning e-waste imports, various types of electronic waste continue to proliferate. Informal e-waste recycling, involving an estimated 100,000 workers in Nigeria, exposes them to hazardous chemicals, leading to health issues such as respiratory ailments and dermatological problems.

The disposal of e-waste lacking economic value often involves burning or dumping, releasing harmful pollutants like heavy metals (e.g., lead, cadmium, mercury) and toxic chemicals (such as dioxins, furans, and flame retardants) into Nigeria’s air, water, and soil. This practice underscores the environmental and health risks associated with improper waste management.

Efforts to mitigate these issues include initiatives led by the Federal Government through the E-Waste Producer Responsibility Organisation (EPRON). The revised regulations compel all stakeholders in the electrical and electronic sectors to register with EPRON, aiming to establish a self-sustaining circular electronics network.

According to Prof. Aliyu Jauro of NESREA, progress is being made since the regulations were gazetted in 2009, with a focus on enhancing resource conservation, promoting recycling, and encouraging eco-friendly product design among manufacturers.

Despite these efforts, challengenges persist, including the need for enhanced capacity within NESREA and enforcement agencies stationed at ports.

Adogame has called for stricter adherence to international agreements like the Basel Convention, which governs the trade of hazardous wastes, advocating for prior informed consent for the export of such materials to importing countries.

Prof. Chinedum Nwajiuba, Chairman of NEST, has echoed these concerns, emphasizing the necessity of reviewing Nigeria’s regulatory framework governing e-waste imports. These collective actions seek to address the growing environmental and health impacts posed by unchecked e-waste proliferation in Nigeria.

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