Confronting the E-Waste Challenge: Lessons from Africa for Extended Producer Responsibilities and Recirculation

After my recent visit to the conference Astana International Forum where I met with different NGOs from the United NationsEuropean Union, Kazakstan, Africa and Asia, where we discussed e-waste and critical raw material, we will today discuss the growing global issue of electronic waste (e-waste) and explores innovative solutions being pioneered in Africa. E-waste, which contains hazardous materials harmful to human health and the environment, rapidly increases due to technological advancements and frequent device upgrades. The article highlights the urgent need for effective e-waste management strategies. One such strategy is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which holds manufacturers accountable for collecting, recycling, and safely disposing of discarded electronic equipment. EPR encourages producers to design easier recycled products, reducing waste and resource consumption. Another approach is e-waste recirculation, which involves collecting, recycling, and reintroducing e-waste materials into the production cycle, aligning with the principles of a circular economy. African countries have proactively addressed the e-waste challenge, implementing EPR and recirculation strategies. The article suggests that the West can learn from Africa’s approach. Establishing legal frameworks for EPR, promoting e-waste recirculation, raising public awareness, and encouraging international cooperation are key lessons for the West. By adopting these strategies, the West can significantly reduce e-waste generation, mitigate environmental impact, create jobs, and contribute to a more sustainable future. However, successfully implementing these strategies requires governments, manufacturers, and consumers to collaborate. It also necessitates a commitment to learning from others and adapting successful practices to local contexts. By implementing lessons from Africa, the West can address the e-waste challenge and work towards a more sustainable society that values resources, protects the environment, and promotes economic growth. #ewaste #ewasterecycling #ewastemanagement #recirculation #esg2030 #sustainableleadership #aif2023

Electronic waste, or e-waste, presents a significant and escalating global challenge. As technology advances at an unprecedented pace, it leaves behind a trail of discarded electronic equipment laden with harmful components. As the magnitude of this issue becomes clearer, some regions are pioneering innovative solutions. Africa, in particular, offers valuable lessons on managing e-waste through extended producer responsibilities and recirculation methods. This article aims to shed light on these practices and discuss their potential for adoption in the Western world.

The E-Waste Quandary: A Synopsis

E-waste includes discarded electronic or electrical devices, which can contain hazardous materials detrimental to human health and the environment. The rapid surge in technology usage and frequent device upgrades have escalated e-waste generation globally.

According to the Transboundary E-waste Flows Monitor 2022, approximately 5.1 Mt (million metric tons) of e-waste crossed international borders in 2019, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of the global e-waste total of 53.6 Mt. These figures underscore the urgent need to devise effective e-waste management strategies.

Extended Producer Responsibilities: Defining the Concept

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a strategy that places the onus of post-consumer waste management on the producers of goods. In the context of e-waste, it implies that electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) manufacturers are responsible for collecting, recycling, and safely disposing of discarded devices.

EPR can be a powerful tool in addressing the e-waste challenge by encouraging producers to design products that are easier to recycle, reduce waste, and use fewer resources.

E-Waste Recirculation: The Approach

E-waste recirculation involves collecting, recycling, and reintroducing e-waste materials into the production cycle. This approach aligns with the principles of a circular economy, where waste is minimised by keeping resources in use for as long as possible.

Recirculation can significantly reduce the environmental impact of e-waste by reducing the need for raw material extraction and the associated energy consumption and emissions. Moreover, it can create jobs and contribute to economic growth.

E-Waste Management in Africa: A Model for the West?

African countries have proactively addressed the e-waste challenge, employing EPR and recirculation strategies.

The West Asian region offers a case study of how these strategies can be implemented. The joint UNEP-UNITAR 2050 Electronic and Electrical Waste Outlook report highlights that currently, 99.9% of EEE in the region needs to be managed or managed. The report also presents two contrasting future scenarios for e-waste management, demonstrating the potential benefits of adopting a circular economy approach.

Transitioning to a circular economy could significantly reduce e-waste generation and lead to the recycling of substantial amounts of valuable materials, including gold, rare earth metals, and iron. This approach could also mitigate emissions of hazardous materials and greenhouse gases and create approximately 225,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

Key Lessons from Africa

The African approach to e-waste management provides several key lessons for the West:

  1. Establish Legal Frameworks for EPR: Legal frameworks that define and enforce EPR are essential for its successful implementation. These laws should clearly outline the responsibilities of producers and establish systems for collecting, recycling and disposing of e-waste.
  2. Promote E-Waste Recirculation: Governments should encourage practices that promote the recirculation of e-waste, such as establishing recycling facilities and adopting recycling-friendly product designs.
  3. Raise Public Awareness: Public education about the dangers of improper e-waste disposal and the benefits of recycling is crucial. Consumers can play a significant role in e-waste management by responsibly disposing of their electronic devices.
  4. Encourage International Cooperation: E-waste is a global problem that requires global solutions. International cooperation can facilitate sharing of best practices, technical knowledge, and resources.

The Road Ahead: Implementing Lessons from Africa in the West

As the West grapples with its e-waste challenge, adopting strategies from Africa could prove instrumental. Implementing robust EPR systems and promoting e-waste recirculation could significantly reduce the environmental impact of e-waste and contribute to a more sustainable future.

However, the success of these strategies will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including governments, manufacturers, and consumers. It will also require learning from others and adapting successful practices to local contexts.


The e-waste challenge is a pressing global issue that requires immediate attention. While the problem is daunting, solutions are emerging from unexpected corners of the globe. Africa’s approach to e-waste management offers valuable lessons that, if adopted, could significantly mitigate the e-waste challenge in the West and beyond.

Extended Producer Responsibilities and e-waste recirculation strategies could be the key to transforming how we produce, consume, and dispose of electronic devices. In the process, we could create more sustainable societies that value resources, protect the environment, and promote economic growth.

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