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8 September - Kenya is set to become the first East African nation to regulate the management of electronic waste, also known as “e-waste”, following a conference run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

These regulations would minimize the impacts of the unsafe disposal of electronic products on public health and the environment, a goal that UNEP actively supports.

At present, Kenya has no specific laws relating directly to e-waste. But the Government-backed recommendations produced at yesterday's meeting – which identified this issue as a national priority – could pave the way towards the first legislation in East Africa on e-waste management.

Participating in the conference were representatives of Kenya's Environment Ministry, its National Environment Management Authority, software giant Microsoft, UNEP and the telecommunications industry.

They came together yesterday to chart a common way forward in dealing with e-waste management in line with the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and other international frameworks.

E-waste consists of old electronic items such as computers, printers, mobile phones, refrigerators and televisions. Increasing demand for electronic goods in Kenya and in the developing world means that levels of e-waste are growing fast. As a result, the hazardous substances such as heavy metals contained in most of these discarded products are posing a serious risk to the environment and to human health.

But e-waste also presents an economic opportunity through the recycling and refurbishing of discarded electronic goods and the harvesting of the precious metals they contain.

A recent study conducted by the Kenyan Information Communications and Technology Network, showed that Kenya generates 3,000 tons of electronic waste per year – a figure which is expected to rise as demand for electronic goods increases. Internationally, China, India and Pakistan receive much of the world's e-waste. Worldwide, e-waste generation is growing by about 40 million tons a year.

Speaking at the workshop, UNEP Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper spoke of the emerging global threats and opportunities provided by tackling the growing e-waste challenge. Acknowledging technology's potential for assisting with infrastructure and overcoming knowledge barriers, she noted innovation and technology can also play a role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), green growth and assisting with climate change challenges.

However, given the increased pace of technological development and obsolescence, many appliances have a short life-expectancy and require sound re-use, recycling and disposal solutions. Dumping or improper recycling of electronic waste causes serious environmental contamination, and while electronic goods are mostly used in the developed world, many end up in developing countries.

“Raising recycling rates and re-using valuable metals and components, as well as increasing safe waste management and its regulation, is critical if countries and businesses are to transform mountains of e-waste into an asset,” said Ms. Cropper.