E-waste, composed of discarded or obsolete electronic devices, poses a threat to the environment and public health. Studies show that when electronics are improperly disposed of, they release toxic chemicals, contaminate soil and water sources, and contribute to climate change.
Still, the majority of our old electronic devices, including flat screens, DVD players, desktops, printers, and keyboards, are indiscriminately discarded. In Rwanda, a staggering 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes of electronics are disposed of each year, as reported by Enviroserve Rwanda, a private enterprise dedicated to electronic and electrical waste recycling, green growth, and the circular economy.
Recently, Members of Parliament called upon the government to implement strategies for collecting e-waste from households. The challenge here is twofold: a lack of awareness about e-waste recycling, and those who are aware of the issue are not the primary contributors to the problem.
In line with International E-waste Day, observed on October 14, on Saturday, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), in collaboration with Enviroserve, the Ministry of Environment (MoE), the Ministry of ICT and Innovation (MINICT), the Rwanda Utility Regulation Authority (RURA), the Rwanda Cooling Initiative (R-Cool), and various retailers and service providers including Akagera Business Group, initiated a public education roadshow campaign. The objective was to raise awareness and educate consumers on the benefits of recycling electronics rather than discarding them in regular trash, with the launch event taking place at Kimironko market.
In 2023, the United Nations predicts a global e-waste production of 8 kg per person, totaling 61.3 million tonnes, with only 17.4 per cent receiving proper collection and recycling. In Rwanda, rapid economic growth and modernisation have led to a fivefold increase in ICT equipment imports from 2010 to 2014, potentially generating 9,417 tonnes of e-waste annually.
Of this, 81.52 per cent comes from individuals, 12.14 per cent from public institutions, and 6.34 per cent from private institutions. The increasing use of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is driven by ICT integration across sectors, resulting in shorter device lifespans and high demand for the latest technologies. Census data indicates high ownership rates of radios (81 per cent), mobile phones (78 per cent), televisions (12 per cent), and computers (4 per cent) in private households.
The International E-waste Day campaign, themed “Recycle it all, no matter how small,” is dedicated to raising awareness about e-waste management. Its key objectives are to boost e-waste collection rates, particularly targeting old and inefficient cooling equipment that contribute to Ozone depletion and global warming, and to advocate for responsible e-waste handling.
“We must all take an active role in mitigating the potential effects of e-waste. I acknowledge that you may have heard this message before, but the truth is, the number of people who responsibly dispose of their e-waste at facilities like Enviroserve is still relatively small,” PS Yves Iradukunda, MINICT, said in a statement.
“That’s why recycling your e-waste is not merely a suggestion; it’s a call to action, a shared responsibility, to safeguard our environment and our own well-being.”
Government authorities express their support for the programme, to the extent that it covers.
“Separating electronic waste from other types is crucial for responsible processing and innovative recycling, benefiting both the environment and global citizens, particularly in Kigali City, where the population has surged to 488,868 residents across 1,745,555 addresses, with over 90 per cent owning electronic devices,” said Merard Mpabwanamaguru, Vice Mayor in Charge of Urbanisation and Infrastructure, City of Kigali.
“We encourage all residents, institutions, and the public in Kigali City to actively participate in sorting and collecting e-waste, placing it in designated areas. This collective effort ensures a better future for the city and its residents,” he added.
Reincorporating these electronic devices into the product cycle offers notable environmental and energy advantages.
“Our primary mission is to spread the word that recycling your old electronic devices is a simple and accessible process,” said Olivier Mbera, the General Manager of EnviroServe Rwanda, who estimates that they have successfully restored and upgraded over 5,000 computers, subsequently distributing them to public schools.
Enviroserve has streamlined the process of electronic disposal, offering multiple hassle-free avenues through campaigns. These include public talks on TV and Radio, an active presence on social media, community engagement initiatives (Umuganda Rusange), and a user-friendly app – all provided at no cost.
Furthermore, Enviroserve offers the convenient choice of having their team pick up the electronics from your location.
E-waste recycling typically involves extracting valuable metals for resale.
Mbera said that some refurbished computers are sold to schools, while others are disassembled, sorted, crushed, and melted down. Some find their way to Dubai, where their main plant is. Any irreclaimable items are sent to a responsible third-party vendor for breakdown or disposal. For example, Enviroserve “crushes phone cover plastics, providing them to companies that use the material in new product manufacturing, often in combination with fresh materials.”
Towards the end of the International E-waste Day event, a continuous stream of locals arrived at the taxi stand, the event’s focal point, to unload their obsolete electronics. This crowd included both those seeking to declutter their garages and dedicated recyclers. Among the items brought for disposal were old microwaves, laptops, and worn keyboards. Three people received Samsung tablets as recognition for disposing of the highest amount of e-waste.
In addition, participants can avail themselves of incentives like a 50 per cent voucher when they bring in an old refrigerator and purchase a new one from Akagera Business Group, an Enviroserve partner, among other perks, as mentioned by Mbera.