Turning challenges into opportunities



Electronic waste (e-waste) is defined as obsolete of all electronic equipments. E-waste includes TV sets, monitors, mobile phones, laptops, personal computers, gadgets, fax machines, printers, refrigerators and many others. Basically, e-waste is any electronic device that has reached the end of its life (Tectonic Staff, 2007). Many of these electronic products can be reused, refurbished or recycled. They represent the most rapidly growing segment of the waste stream in the world. Due to fast advancement and innovation in IT, many of these products are becoming more and more obsolete because of new technologies. For example, the average disposal of a computer has today a lifetime of 2 years while in the mid of 1990s the average lifetime of a computer was 4 to 6 years (Widmer R., Krapf H.O., Kehetriwal D.S., Schellemann M. and Bni H., 2005).

E-waste grows exponentially due to the fact that the consumption of electronic products expands quickly all over the world. Hungry for bridging the digital divide between developed countries and Africa, but with inadequate capability to make it, Africa has found itself a digital dump of e-waste (Schmidt C., 2006). The UNEP estimated that about 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated worldwide per annum (Schwarzer S.,De Bono A., Giuliani G.,Kluser S.,Peduzzi P., 2005). This growth is equal to 3 to 5 percent per year of the overall global e-waste production. If no measures are put in place to monitor and regulate the problem, expectations show that this number will double in the near future (Walraven K., 2007). Economies of scale is another factor for this growth according to (StEP, 2008). Economies of scale contributed to the rise in demand for electronic equipments. This has lowered prices for electronic goods and new products replaces old products on an average of 2 years.

The e-waste trade started in the western countries. In the past, there were no large volumes of e-waste in developed countries. The reason was that e-waste was considered as a cost factor in production. The restriction on disposal of e-waste in organization for economic co-operation and development (OECD) countries was another factor contributed to the less pollution due to concerns of environmental standards. The strictly environmental regulations in developed countries stimulated the export of e-waste overseas where Africa and Asia became favored destinations. Developing countries found themselves as dumping sites due to lack of environmental regulations, lower labor costs and poor labor conditions. However, developing countries lack the infrastructure to handle the e-waste, the magnitude of e-waste in Africa and Asia is high, meaning that the contribution from these people has a significant financial meaning to businesses in developed countries (Zoeteman B.C.J.,Krikke H.R. and Venselaar J., 2009).

In the meantime, e-waste has rejuvenated into international trade, exporting e-waste to poor countries is dangerous but cost effective. Sometimes, due to business opportunities available in developing countries, illegal shipment is done due to fact that some companies try to escape the tariffs and taxes at home because of high rates. Other companies try to ship the products under mislabeled documents and the guise of charity. The recycling mechanisms in developing countries yet is a major problem due to rudimentary of methods used in disposing of the electronic products. These activities pose threats and increase risks both to human health and the environmental in the region (Schwarzer S.,De Bono A., Giuliani G.,Kluser S.,Peduzzi P., 2005).

The environmental problems are addressed differently from nation to nation and region to region. Some countries react faster than others due to the fact that nations have different financial schemes. But, the threats and its impacts are somehow similar to all. For instance, it is obvious and well known that Africa has contributed less to greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming. The dumping of e-waste on the continent is the evidence of degradation of the environment. So, the move has shifted from political and social economic problems to environmental problem (USAID, 2008).

Given the sharp increase in volume and potential value of e-waste, informal sector has been emerged for recycling and collection in Africa. This sector is characterized by lack of awareness of the people involved in recycling due to the fact that many are children and women who never been to school. African countries in due time face difficulties resulted from the e-waste trade. The deterioration of environmental standards and health risks of many children and women who work in these dump sites are issues of great concern. They engage in this work due to poverty and life necessities to meet the basic human needs. Recyclers lack also required knowledge pertaining to how to deal with the e-waste effectively (Tingsabadh C. & Jantarasarsophon P., 2007).

During the waste separation process, recyclers risk their health as they come directly into contact with chemicals or inhaling dusts and carcinogenic fumes when handling the e-waste. There also environmental risks as some to the toxic substances contaminate with the local environment. Most of the e-waste is recycled informally while in search of valuable metals like gold and copper. The unwanted materials are then dumped, exposed to uncontrollable fires near the homes where people live. The released fumes (arsenic, chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls) contain poisonous gases which are extremely dangerous to human health (Jowitt T., 2009).

However, there are flipside impacts associated to e-waste, e-waste could also be considered as an electronic resource as valuable metals are recovered. Recovering these metals has always been a big business profits to developed countries. Importing countries particularly Africa should take measures to minimize the threats in order to safeguard the people and the environment. Importing countries supported with exporting countries should draft a mechanism that allows, safeguards and protects the people and the environment in turning the threats into opportunities like building an installation that facilitates recycling and management of e-waste. Many could enjoy the benefits of this trade as it is a source of income as well as employment (Dr. Peiry K.K, 2007).

Research objectives & Questions

The major objective of this proposal is to analyze the opportunities and threats of e-waste on the African community. Furthermore, this proposal will explore the extended producer responsibility in relation to the context of the dumping of e-waste products (Saunders M., Lewis P., Thornhill A., 2003). It also aims to study and compare the characteristics of this trade and environmental pollution as far as international trade theory. In fulfilling this obligations, this research shall answer the following questions:

  • Does the e-waste trade create opportunities as well as threats?
  • Which opportunities and threats arise for the African Countries from being importing the WEEE?
  • How can we assess the magnitude of opportunities and threats of WEEE for African countries?
  • What proposals are needed to draw up a roadmap toward a proper WEEE Management?
  • Is the extended producer responsibility (EPR) offer solutions to the problem?
  • Is the international trade theory suggest a better way to trade under the free trade agreements?

Research Methodology

A lot of information and many data have been gathered specifically on e-waste by different scholars. This research will conduct a literature review by reading and studying data from online sources such as articles, libraries databases, books and journals and newspapers whether daily, weekly and monthly. For this reason, this paper is committed to desk reach design (Saunders M., Lewis P., Thornhill A., 2003).

The e-waste is a global problem, there a lot of issues involving in this trade and politics is playing its role too. To gain the insights, this research will discuss the e-waste on global scale and then narrowing the problem in national scale where Nigeria is treated as a case study as an example of many other African countries. I decided to take Nigeria because there is a lot of information available on the problem.

In order to draw up a general conclusion, a comparison between two countries is needed. This proposal decided to choose South Africa to be used for comparison purposes against Nigeria. South Africa has made progress toward the recycling and management of e-waste more than any African countries. The major issue is to examine what South Africa has done in order to mitigate the threats and explore the opportunities of e-waste.

Time Planning

To fulfill the duties of this research, a proper time table will be formulated and the content therein should be respected. The timetable of this research will be as shown here below;


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  • Saunders M., Lewis P., Thornhill A. (2003). Research methods for business students. Harlow: Pearson education limited.
  • Schmidt C. (2006). Unfair trade e-waste: Emerging dumping ground. Environmental Health Perspective.
  • Schwarzer S.,De Bono A., Giuliani G.,Kluser S.,Peduzzi P. (2005). E-waste; the hidden side of IT equipment's manufacturing and use. Environment Alart Bulletin.
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  • Widmer R., Krapf H.O., Kehetriwal D.S., Schellemann M. and Bni H. (2005). Global perspectives on e-waste. Elsevier.
  • Zoeteman B.C.J.,Krikke H.R. and Venselaar J. (2009). Handling electronic waste flows: On the effectiveness of producer responsibility in a globalizing world. Tilburg: Tilburg University.

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