Kenyan Ingenuity Takes A Byte Out Of E-Waste
Nairobi (AFP) June 03, 2007
Subjected nightly to his wife's soap opera fetish, used-computer refurbisher Norman Mutunga began to look desperately for a way out. From the corner of his eye, Mutunga -- whose single television set is a luxury -- glimpsed a blank computer screen and an idea to solve both his company's problem with excess monitors and end to his own torture.
With the help of a colleague, Mutunga hatched a method of converting computer screens into battery- or solar-powered, high-resolution televisions that are as economically friendly as they are environmentally efficient.
Mutunga hurriedly installed one in his home, offering an alternative to the daily dosage of televised histrionics, and set out to conduct the operation on a larger scale.
"They told us we were crazy, but we succeeded and now we're reducing electronic waste," said the refurbishment officer, who launched the programme last year with Computers for Schools Kenya (CFSK).
For CFSK, which has been rehabbing donated computers since 2002, reducing electronic waste is a top priority. But the non-profit charity began to worry they were only deterring the inevitable.
"Even a brand new computer will eventually become electronic waste," CFSK Deputy Director Fred Okono said. "So we needed to find a legitimate and environmentally friendly means of addressing our hunger for technology."
Each year, between 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of electronic waste, or e-waste, are produced globally, much of which finds its way to the African continent as charitable donations, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Often left to rot in expansive dumping grounds, electronic waste may contain traces of the toxins cadmium, mercury and lead, which can contaminate water supplies, wreak havoc on once fertile lands and contain carcinogenic elements.
"Africa is very susceptible to e-waste dumping because there is often a desperate hunger to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of technology," Okono said.
"But often, we can only get what the rest of the world is not using any longer," he added, gingerly skirting between piles of circuit boards and dismantled hard drives during a tour of the organisation's workshop on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Owners of the adapted televisions do not only rave about the clarity of the screen's picture but also the invention's cheap price tag. A set costs no more than 75 dollars (55 euros) while secondhand television sets run upwards of 150 dollars (110 euros), in a country where two-thirds of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.
Skepticism, however, reigns among would-be buyers, with many thinking they're about to receive a battered and low-grade machine. But most are won over after a quick demonstration.
"When I first heard about this idea, I was really doubtful so I had to go to the workshop to actually see it working," barber shop owner Daniel Mureithi recalled, adding that his shop has seen a significant increase in business since installing a set.
Each set is custom-made and can even be connected to a DVD player or gaming console.
"I find this quite noble as a way of helping out the environment," said Josephine Nyamburu, a high school computer teacher who purchased a monitor for her mother.
With e-waste becoming an internationally recognized problem, efforts are sprouting up worldwide to dispose of electronics in a sound environmental manner, with most small in scale and sponsored by non-governmental organisations.
"Most countries where we have e-waste management activities, the activities are being conducted by NGOs. But we are trying to make it a national priority, to remind governments to deal with this issue before it's too late," says Desda Mebratu, an industrial waste specialist with the United Nations Environment Programme.
The UN's Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, ratified by 169 countries in 1992, seeks to protect the environment from the inappropriate disposal of toxic waste materials. But despite efforts to regulate the problem, significant traffic in electronic waste still occurs.
"One of the countries most notorious for this, I've noticed, is America. They're sending us dot matrix printers and Commodore 64s under the pretense of helping us to develop ourselves but, in effect, they're dumping stuff they don't want," Mutunga said.
"How are we supposed to use those things? We should just put them in a museum somewhere and charge admission for people to view as fossils of technology."
Source: Agence France-Presse
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When it comes to air pollution, the smallest size can do the most harm. More than a decade ago, a pioneering study by Harvard's School of Public Health showed that one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution is particulate matter 10 microns (about 0.0004 inch) or less in size. Called PM 10, this tiny airborne debris is a product of burning fossil fuels. It can be found wherever there are cars, boilers and power plants. Fires and dust storms are also sources.
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