Solving Africa's E-Waste Problem: A Call to Action for the Tech Industry

Africa's economy is experiencing rapid growth, and the technology sector is working to keep pace with this expansion. While this presents an opportunity for the world to connect more with this region, it is crucial for companies to consider the potential consequences of digital growth, such as the issue of e-waste. In this article, we will examine the case of e-waste in Africa and explore potential solutions that tech companies can implement to address this problem.


Africa's economy is booming, providing more people with access to internet and technology. As a result, the digital economy is growing rapidly. In fact, the number of data centers in Africa is expected to increase by 300% in the coming years. The technology sector in Africa broke a record in 2021 with more start-ups completing $100 million investment rounds. Mobile data consumption is also expected to increase 40% each year until 2025, which is almost double the global average rate. This growth will be supported by high-performance data centers, fiber-optics, and telecom towers. They will form the backbone of Africa's digital growth.



Despite the growth of Africa's digital economy, the continent is facing infrastructure challenges, particularly in managing e-waste. In 2019, Africa produced around 2.9 million metric tons (Mt) of e-waste, with an average of 2.5 kg per capita. In comparison, Europe produced 16.2 kg per capita and the Americas produced 13.3 kg per capita. Unfortunately, only 17.4% of the world's e-waste is recycled.

While Africa produces a relatively small portion of the world's e-waste, the bigger problem is illegal imports from developed countries. Africa locally generates around 50-85% of its total e-waste, with the rest coming from these illegal imports. The accumulation of e-waste in dumpsites in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal, and Egypt is leading to serious environmental contamination and public health crises.

Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury are commonly used in the manufacture of tech equipment, as are substances like dioxins, furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These toxic substances are contaminating Africa's soils, vegetation, water, and dust. This contamination is already damaging the marine environment and making fish stocks smaller and sicker. Consuming contaminated food and water can cause neurological damage, cancer, and reproductive problems. It is crucial to find sustainable solutions for managing e-waste in Africa to prevent further environmental degradation and protect public health and wildlife.

Africans are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges posed by e-waste, and governments are taking steps to encourage its proper management. Some of these efforts include:

1. Regulations on Imports and exports of e-waste

In Ghana and Nigeria, companies must obtain a permit from a government agency before importing or exporting e-waste. They must also submit annual reports to this authority

2. Tax Incentives

 In South Africa, companies that engage in recycling e-waste can receive tax benefits. Small businesses can also receive financial support if they engage in e-waste recycling.

3. Partnerships

Nigeria's government and Dell have formed a partnership to create an e-waste recycling program. This collaboration between the private and public sectors provides free recycling services to consumers and small businesses, with Dell offering financial incentives to clients who recycle their electronics.

4. Awareness campaigns

Kenya's "Take Back Our E-Waste" campaign uses social media and a mobile app to encourage people to recycle their electronics. The campaign also provides information on collection points for e-waste.

While the initiatives being taken to manage e-waste in Africa are a good starting point, many African countries are failing to address a crucial problem: informal e-waste recycling. In fact, the informal sector is currently feeding the small formal e-waste recycling sector in most African countries.



Unfortunately, the informal sector doesn't really "recycle" e-waste because it requires expensive pyrometallurgical or hydrometallurgical facilities. These facilities are lacking in the informal sector, which means they cannot manage e-waste safely and responsibly. This can cause great damage to their own health and the environment. Non-regulated activities in the informal sector often involve illegal activities such as child labor. In Ghana, children as young as five years old have been documented working in informal recycling areas. A child who eats just one chicken egg from Agbogbloshie, a waste site in Ghana, will absorb 220 times the European Food Safety Authority daily limit for intake of chlorinated dioxins.

Despite these challenges, the informal sector employs thousands of people in Africa. This is why countries and companies need to invest in formal e-waste management physical infrastructure to support the formalization of the sector. By doing so, it will be possible to create a sustainable digital growth that protects the environment and public health while promoting economic growth and job creation.


Governments undoubtedly play a major role in e-waste management, but tech companies can also make a significant contribution to this cause while accessing numerous benefits not only in Africa but around the world. Here are some ways tech companies can support e-waste management:

1. Design durable and repairable products:

Make products easy to repair, without complicated systems or inaccessible parts that can only be found in specific stores. For example, the Dutch company Fairphone designs modular smartphones that are easy to repair.

2. Take-back programs

Implement take-back programs where you encourage consumers to return old equipment for destruction or recycling. Dell in USA runs these kinds of programs.

3. Educate consumers

Run campaigns to educate teach consumers about the importance of e-waste recycling. For example, Samsung teaches its consumers how to recycle their old electronics.

4. Invest in research and development

Develop strategies to use more sustainable materials to manufacture products. Apple has developed technologies to recycle materials more effectively such as aluminum and plastic. Nearly 20 percent of Apple’s materials for production are recycled.

5. Partner with e-waste recyclers:

Partner with companies such as Dragon Sino to ensure equipment is recycled or destroyed responsibly. Companies like Aryaka and Zscaler are already successfully refurbishing or recycling their old equipment with us, which saves them thousands of dollars.


By taking these steps, tech companies can help address the e-waste challenges facing Africa and the world while promoting sustainable economic growth and protecting the environment and public health.

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