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E-Waste: Kenya’s Diamond in the Rough

Kenya hit the jackpot.  It’s been sitting on this lucrative business for a while, and now, e-waste is turning into e-profits…

Nairobi’s Kibera district, a place far off from wealth and prosperity, with most of it’s population (0ne million) living on less than minimum wage, is Africa’s largest slum. But a new source of income has reached the surface. And we can thank Leonard Ngatia, a Soweto Youth Group collector. Every day he scrounges around local repair shops for electronic waste, banking up to $45 per day.

Leonard Ngatia says, “We don’t make money every day, but what we do get, we are able to plan for – we buy what we can, we pay rent… I can’t complain.”

Not too shabby. Electronic waste could be quite lucrative for business, after all. It all adds up: nine tons of copper, 24 kg of gold and 250 kg of silver. All can be found in every one million phones. Thousands of tons of e-waste pass through Kenya every single year. Charles Kuria, Managing Director at HP East Africa, argues that this resource is largely untapped.

Charles Kuria says, “We need to educate the population that this so-called electronic waste is actually a resource. It becomes a resource when it is recycled in the correct way.”

But there’s a downside: If the waste is disposed of in the wrong way, harmful toxins can be released. This Nairobi plant is training collectors (like Leonard) on how to handle it properly. This may prove to be promising for the jobs market.

Supposedly Kenya’s first sustainable e-waste recycling center, East African Compliant Recycling (EACR) has big plans: Process the waste and sell it back to the companies throughout the country.

EACR CEO Robert Truscott says, “This is the first model of its kind, not just in Africa… but anywhere in the world. This model is about connecting the collector to the global markets for the materials, and providing them with a fair and transparent price in actual fact to ensure they get the maximum value for the waste.”

One thing’s for sure… electronic waste has no shortage. By 2017, e-waste is predicted to reach 65 million tons (worldwide). That’s a 33% increase over the past 5 years, alone.