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Results of the African E-Waste and Refurbishment Standards Conference

Results of the African E-Waste and Refurbishment Standards Conference

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A couple weeks ago, I posted about an upcoming e-waste and refurbishment standards conference in South Africa that I was co-organizing. The event has now taken place, and this post is about what happened.

Industry and policy leaders shared information on the current state of African electronics recycling and refurbishment policy and practice. Those of us presenting from the U.S. and Europe talked about the voluntary industry standards like Responsible Recycling (R2) in the U.S. and Weeelabex in Europe.

These are industry-led standards to ensure the responsible recycling of used electronics. The standards discussed included provisions that protect the environment, improve operations, ensure worker health and safety, improve data security, and help companies successfully compete in the world market.

Conference participants listening and discussing

The event's purpose was to join industry and government in putting into action some of the precepts developed at the 2012 United Nation’s Pan-African Forum on E-Waste in Nairobi, Kenya.

Desired outcomes of the event included:

  • For all to understand African challenges and how international electronics and refurbishment standards apply to African conditions.
  • To understand the current state of the African electronics recycling industry.
  • To identify effective stakeholder groups able to engage African governments, the largest generators of computer discards, and to encourage them to fully use the emerging electronics and refurbishment industry.
  • To explore ways to integrate the already large informal recycling sector in Africa in ways that provide income and also ensure personal health for these workers, and environmental health for Africa.
  • To ensure that attendees have the information necessary to make decisions on offering reuse and recycling services that align with international best practices, principles, and standards.
  • To identify industry leaders in Africa willing to be early adopters of international standards.

UNIDO’s Smail Alhilali summed up the event this way: "The event facilitated discussions between stakeholders throughout the whole chain of e-waste recycling. In the long term, standards will be key to stimulating the economic development of the recycling industry in Africa." Find UNIDO’s press release about the conference here.

This conference changed my view of Africa dramatically. There is a huge amount of good work going on in the field of electronics recycling that I had no idea about.

I’ve already written about some of it in my post on How Digital Inclusion Is Done in Africa.

And I’m going to revise my Snapshot of Worldwide Electronics Recycling 2013 that featured the work of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA). It was a thrill to meet Keith Anderson who founded and runs eWasa — and about 74 other people doing great work in this field.

Images: Above right  TechSoup Africa director David Barnard, Jim Lynch, and World Links' director Eliada Gudza. Bottom picture Microsoft worldwide manager of refurbisher programs Sean Nicholson in a roundtable discussion with key United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) leaders. UNIDO’s Smail Alhilali is in the foreground.

Images courtesy of Caroline Bowley

Montage courtesy of Glenn Hirsch

  • So... what happens now? How will we know if this results anything?

    Thanks so much for sharing - hope those questions don't sound cynical... as a former UN employee, having attended a lot of really great conferences, I'm always interested in what happens next.

  • I am glad that this conference changed your view of Africa but do not forget that Africa is a very diverse continent and economies like those of Kenya and South Africa are are among the richest. There are large differences between and within countries, examples of  'best practise' may not generalise.

  • Jane - Great question. I am fielding inquiries from attendees who want to find out more about getting certified to one of the standards. So far we have 4 recycling/refurbishing companies and 2 auditors that have expressed interest and are taking the next steps. - Jim