Wealth: Key to Environmental Concerns

Published on 15th May 2007

The ever-increasing volume of electronic products (some intentionally given short life spans) from computers and cell phones to digital cameras and rechargeable cells means an escalating volume of waste. Many people have no idea of the toxins contained in electronic gadgets.

Computers, computer monitors, and televisions ending up in landfills pose a threat to the environment from their hazardous content. The television cathode ray tube, for example, contains from five to eight pounds of lead, which is deadly when it seeps into water Computers may contain silver, cadmium, mercury (not biodegradable), selenium, and chromium. These could cause cancer and other damage to body organs.

Electronic waste is with us to stay. Countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti and the US have signed the Basel Convention treaty that controls trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes but have not ratified it.

Developed countries, in their bid to rid themselves of obsolete technology and utilize space economically, are transferring their second hand products to developing nations. Hazardous electronic waste finds its way to developing countries for processing or in form of electronic equipment donations, due to lower environmental standards in these countries.

What should developing nations do? They could adopt legislation that asks manufacturers to take back their product when it is no longer in use. This take-back policy will ensure that the manufacturers take responsibility of their waste. Alternatively, developed nations could make use of alternative products, such as LCD panels and plasma screens for televisions and computers. These items contain little or no hazardous material.

Another option is establishing of viable markets for recycling. Recycling old electronics not only keeps the resources that go into making the equipment in use but also keeps all of the toxic components in electronic devices out of the landfill. Plastics, which have for a long time been regarded as a menace are being recycled and converted to other use. This process creates employment opportunities and offers alternative products.

As developed nations exit obsolete technologies, Africa should borrow a leaf and reach out for technologies that will improve the lot of the African. African countries continue to languish in back-breaking farming methods and food deficiency while yield boosting and non-till  technologies such as the use of fertilizer and pesticides continue to ensure food sufficiency in developed nations.We stop at extracting sugar from sugarcane while other nations have gone a step further-etracting fuel.

It is a shame to see mountains and acres of spoilt vehicles and machinery dotting the African landscape and waters. They have not only become a habitat for wild animals, but also lead to under utilization of space. This clearly shows that either, African education does not solve problems in Africa, or Africa’s elites lack creativity.

Africa ought to be dynamic, to benefit from emerging technologies. The continent shall however not catch up with the developed world as long as poverty bites. With wealth, Africans shall afford to resort to environmental concerns. With a suitable environment in which the  procedures for starting a business are reduced,  taxation is minimal,  the rule of law is observed and property rights respected, entrepreneurs shall forge a business solution to dealing with e- waste problems.

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