Interview: “Electrical and Electronic Wastes Need Special Treatment”

Armel Poughela, Country Director of Solidarité Technologique.

Solidarite technologique is currently managing the first e-waste recycling centre in Central Africa on Cameroonian soil. Could you briefly explain to us how you carry out your activities?

Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) needs special treatment and our NGO, Solidarité Technologique, through the WEEECAM project has so far been working day-in-day-out to ensure that this kind of waste is properly managed given its environmental hazards. According to the existing legislature, we have a permit from the Ministry of Environment to actually carry out this activity in Cameroon. First of all, we start from the collection phase. We collect from companies and households. Companies actually pay us to collect their electronic waste. We are experiencing stiff competition from the informal sector at the level of collection from households. Because we are not collecting anything much from our waste collection points, we resorted to mobile caravans. Through the caravans, we sensitise the population on the dangers of electronic waste and the importance for them to give it to professionals who can handle it and not to the informal sector. In most occasions, we are obliged to compensate them. After the collection, we bring it to the Centre and do visual separation between waste that cannot be refurbished and waste which can be potentially repaired. We have two different workshops; one which is for refurbishment and the other which is for the dismantling. The refurbishment is basically for repair and we have a team of experts who can repair the different types of equipment. Once it is repaired, we send it to our shop to sell and if it cannot be repaired, we send it to the dismantling space. Dismantling basically consists in separating all the different materials in the collected E-Waste. Valuable materials, such as iron, aluminium and copper are extracted and used as raw materials for other industries. Hazardous materials are also extracted, such as PCB Capacitors, Mercury Lamps, Batteries (Lead, Lithium, Nickel), Leaded compounds, Plastics containing Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), etc. Most of these hazardous materials can’t be recycled and are costly to eliminate properly.

 

You talked of the informal sector, what makes the difference between your method of Electrical Electronic waste management and theirs?

 As for what concerns the informal sector, they dismantle to remove mainly elements like copper, aluminium and iron. At the end, they either dump the rest of the components of the electrical electronic equipment on the streets or better still burn them. But it is recommended not to burn because the elements found in the electronics are very dangerous to the environment. With us, we do not only dismantle but struggle to repair. Instead of burning elements that cannot be exploited at the local level, we rather store them or better still eliminate them in the right way. Again, the dismantling in the informal sector is done in a very crude way and they are not protected. They often get injured in the process meanwhile here, we have mechanised equipment to dismantle them and in a professional manner. We are equally very protected. All our employees wear the appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), to protect them from the harmful impacts that E-Waste treatment may have on their health.

 

Apart from the stiff competition from the informal sector, what other difficulties are you facing in the e-waste management process?

To get electrical electronic waste from households is very difficult probably because they are not aware of the dangers. The second difficulty we are facing is to find path ways for the materials that go out at the end of the recycling process. Most of them cannot be exploited because there is no industrial facility in Cameroon capable of recycling them. They include plastics, glasses, batteries, foam from fridges, amongst others. We realised that it is very costly to eliminate them in the proper way. What we do is that we store materials for which we haven’t found any suitable recycling or disposal channel yet, while continuing research and experiments to put these channels in place. Storage is only an interim solution, since our storage capacities will come to an end, and if no local solution can be found, the only way out will be to export. 

 

 

 

 

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