Inside the E-waste dismantling and recycling facility located in Gashora, Bugesera district. (courtesy photo)

Rwanda is the only country in East Africa that has electronic and electric waste policy and regulations, and it’s the second in Africa to have a state of art E-waste dismantling and recycling facility located in Gashora, Bugesera district.
For proper handling of e-waste generated in the Country, through a partnership with the Rwanda Green Fund and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the facility is protecting millions from the hazardous threat of e-waste, providing peace of mind to electronic and electrical equipment users across the region through the proper and environmental friendly management of electronic and electrical waste.

In a two day training at La Palisse hotel from 2nd to 3rd Dec 2021, a delegation of government and private institutions were trained on Electronic and Electric equipment where participants, whose daily work involves the use of electronics and electric equipment got a chance to learn the high risk of being exposed to the dangers of keeping damaged and expired these tools around them without proper disposal of or protection.

Olivier Mbera, the country manager of E-Serve in his opening remark stated that;
“The government has been promoting ICT penetration in rural areas through different initiatives such as the ‘one laptop per child’ program and an off-grid rural electrification program, and there was a move to have all services delivered online. However, there was no solution for what to do once these electronic and electrical products reached the end of their life. The government and other private institutions had been renting warehouses to store all the e-waste, which was expensive and unsustainable and therefore needed a lifetime solution.”

Electronic waste (e-waste) is generated from discarded mobile phones, computers, stereos, light bulbs, among a variety of household appliances such as televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, etc.

E-waste management has become a major challenge facing many African countries because of low awareness levels, lack of environmental legislation and limited financial resources. Currently, e-waste in Africa is predominately disposed of through open dumping, burning and land filling, but with heavy metals and other hazardous substances present in electronics, these methods have potentially serious implications for human health and the environment.

In 2008, Rwanda began policy discussions around how to manage their e-waste. After consulting those involved in the sector, with support from the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the country eventually approved an e-waste policy in 2016.
The policy provided guiding principles in dealing with e-waste alongside roles and responsibilities for institutions. The next step was to create legal instruments such as a law and regulations and adequate infrastructure to handle the increasing generation of e-waste.

A detailed inventory on e-waste generation was also conducted as part of the project, and it found that Rwanda had the potential to of generate 10,000-15,000 tonnes of e-waste per year.

As per national E-waste policy, for the survey conducted revealed that from 2010 to 2021, import of ICT equipment increased by 5 times and Rwanda has potential annual e-waste generation of 9,417 tons of which 7,677 tons (81.52%) are contributed by individuals, 1,143 tons (12.14%) by public institutions and 597 tons (6.34%) by private institutions.

Piechart showing contributors to e-waste generation from electronic and electric equipment in Rwanda from 2010-2021 (as per national e-waste policy survey)

“This was the baseline data we needed to be able to put in place proper infrastructure for sustainable e-waste management in Rwanda,” says Mbera.

An e-waste recycling facility was built in the eastern part of the country and is currently managed and operated by the private sector company EnviroServe Rwanda Green Park though a public-private partnership agreement with the Government of Rwanda.

EnviroServe Rwanda currently has six collection points where members of the public can drop off their unwanted electronic goods, and is aiming for 30 points by the end of the year – one in each district of Rwanda and at border posts.

“Last year we collected 3,000 tonnes of e-waste, which is 30% of the capacity of the facility. This year, we are focused on increasing not only the number of collection centres to 30, but also raising awareness amongst the general public about where they can responsibly dispose of their e-waste,” said Mbera, adding that COVID-19 has had a big impact on their work, delaying the establishment of collection centres throughout the country.

“We recognize that even with these measures we are not able to access all the e-waste in Rwanda so we work with general waste collection companies, training them to separate the e-waste and give it to us. We keep records of where the waste comes from and whether the client has requested refurbishment or their data wiped,” he continues to emphasize that once the e-waste reaches the facility, it is separated, weighed and recorded.

“Rwanda is among the few countries that have an electronic waste policy and regulations, and is the second in Africa to have a state-of-the-art e-waste dismantling and recycling facility.
If we are able to repair and refurbish the equipment, they are either sold at a heavily discounted price or donated to schools and if the item is beyond repair, it is dismantled into different parts, valuable materials are recovered and hazardous materials are responsibly disposed of.” Says Olivier Mbera, EnviroServe Rwanda general manager while he continues to explain that they crush the plastic into small pellets which are sent to other industries to make new plastic materials such as chairs or construction material.

“The steel recovered from discarded items is processed into high quality iron bars by a facility next door to ours, which bars are then used in construction. The circuit boards are exported to EnviroServe Dubai where there is higher tech and environmental friendly facilities to extract precious metals.”

Trainees being briefed on the process of e-waste management at the facility (courtesy photo)

This has spurred the company to take their capacity a step further whereby they are aiming to expand and become the first lithium battery recycling facility in Africa. Not only has the facility made great environmental gains, but it has also created employment, training for young technicians locally and some from Tvet schools in partenship with IPRC.

From collection to refurbishment to construction, so many jobs have been created to support the industries of the future.
Many visiting country delegations have been interested in the model that Rwanda has adopted for its e-waste recycling, and Mbera believes that not only is it easily applicable to other countries, but it is also a good example for how the circular economy can work in Africa.

“The principle of a circular economy is to put all waste to use again. E-waste is often looked at as a problem, but as we have demonstrated, it is also a resource. If we all just put a little more effort into waste management, we could achieve great things.”
The trainees were taught about the safety of workers in E-waste handling and risk and according to Eric Murera, workers engaged in e-waste treatment are exposed to hazardous substances in e-waste through water, air, soil, dust, and food.
This exposure can even put lives at risk, especially for those involved in bad and non recommended practices.
It is important to note that on a very basic human level, attention to the enforcement of treatment measures, safety of workers in transporting, lifting and keeping their working space clean, with precaution that there is a process of dismantling and recycling E-waste in Rwanda.

Jean Pierre DUKUZIMANA, the Government Movable Assets Management Officer of Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) emphasized the need to always make sure that your request for authorization to transfer broken E-assets is well supported by assets valuation report;

To avoid huge irregularities in your assets valuation report, you can request in advance to check if your AV report is well done. The institution needs to make an internal memo, requesting your Chief Budget Manager to establish Assets Valuation Committee (AVC).

Members of AVC should put assets valuation among their top priorities;

• Learn to say that damaged E-assets are in better hands.
• Request for authorization to transfer broken E-assets, with assets valuation report that has huge irregularities.

Though some Public Institutions don’t have Assets Valuation Committee (AVC),
sometimes it is very difficult to arrange assets valuation because members of AVC are very busy with their day to day tasks, not forgetting the difficulty to “Say good bye” to damaged E-assets and this is why certain regulations exist concerning e-waste management and they include the following, among some more;

1. Law N° 50/2008 of 09/09/2008 determining the procedure for disposal of state private assets;

2. Ministerial order N° 007/2009 of 01/12/2009 determining the organization and functioning of the asset disposal evaluation committee to set value for state private assets to be sold, exchanged, donated or completely destroyed.

Increasing levels of electrical and electronic waste, and its improper and unsafe treatment and disposal through open burning or in dumpsites pose significant risks to both the environment and human health.

Globally, 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated (2019) where the waste stream of small equipment is the biggest contributor. (17.4
Million metric tonnes)

In Africa alone, 2.9 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated, translating into 2.5kg per inhabitant. Unfortunately, globally only 17.4% was recycled while the remaining 82.6% is unknown (dumped or traded or recycled in a non-environmentally sound way) or ends up at the dumpsite

A better understanding and proper disposal of e-waste contribute towards the achievement of several goals of the 2030 Agenda, particularly SDGs 3, 6, 8, 11, 12, and 14.

T. Umumarashavu Janat