E-waste, a health challenge of the 21st Century


AS the world has become a global village, shrinking due to improved communications and technological developments, distances have been largely reduced and with the click of a button, the whole world is at one’s disposal.

Satellite broadcasting, the mobile phones, high-tech computer- driven Internet have made technology look simple and easy. The production of electrical and electronic equipment is the fastest growing global manufacturing activity in the world.

The idea to acquire the latest mobile phone, computer, television set, refrigerator, radio or printer has come at a price that does not only drain cash, but one’s environmental and personal health as well. Welcome to the world of e-waste, the silent assassin and smart killer.

Electronic waste or e-waste is the term used to describe old end-of-life electronic appliances such as computers, television sets, refrigerators, generators and DVDs.

One type of madness associated with humankind is their love of flashy lifestyles, which include the latest models of cellphones. Names like Sony, Blackberry, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Lenovo, just to mention a fraction, quickly come into mind.

Nowadays those who can afford can be seen with at least four top-of-the-range mobile phones not forgetting the latest models of
iPads just to show off.

In their homes some of the big brands mentioned above will be gracing the walls of their sitting rooms in the form of LCDs popularly known as flat-screens. Flat screens are now common in such a way that if you get into a bottle store without one, the owner will not be considered serious enough.

These are not the only gadgets that humans have apetite for. Talk of refrigerators, laptops, desktops, radios, DVDs and printers, just to bring the world under one roof.

Manufacturers of these electrical gadgets don’t sleep, they keep on designing and coming up with new models. As a result the once popular electronic pets are quickly discarded for new once, just to try to move with times.

As some of these gadgets are overtaken by events, they are just discarded and pile up in the houses. The owners appear not sure of what exactly to do with them. They do not know how best these things should be disposed of and sometimes they find their way into a backyard junk room, dust bin or junk-site.

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Once these gadgets are exposed to the atmosphere after being stripped of their copper or gold components, they react and produce harmful gases into the atmosphere for people to breathe. Computers, classified as “grey goods”, contain highly toxic chemicals like lead or mercury which are highly harmful to the environment and human body.

Electronic waste is one of the rapidly growing problems in the world today.

The developed countries normally dump these electronic gadgets in developing countries sometimes as donations.

Computers are the most common types of donations that the ever grateful leaders of the developing nations are always ready to accept.

They do not just accept gleefully, but they do it with honour so that next time they get other consignments. They go to the extent of holding ceremonies especially during election time.

Prospective parliamentary candidates are seen jostling for space to donate computers even in areas where there is no electricity.

Schools are the most unfortunate destinations where computers that were donated during the 2013 election period have since developed thick layers of dust. Welcome to the world of ICT Zimbabwe.

Developing countries, because they are ill equipped to recycle these gadgets as required, resort to informal methods of recycling which are hazardous to one’s health.

The point here is that, it is the issue of gases at stake, due to the fact that most gases can be smelt and inhaled unconsciously. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, between 2007 and 2020, domestic TV e-waste will double, computer e-waste will increase five times and from cellphones 18 times.

What is also clear is that, where these gadgets are manufactured, the host countries also have storage problems, so let us not fool ourselves thinking that these countries like us so much by donating to us.

They have a problem of space and developing countries are the only dumping grounds otherwise known as “green passports”.

Sometimes because of poverty and low literacy levels, women and children mostly suffer from e-waste toxins as they try to eke a living.

It is also my humble submissions that the country possesses relevant technology for shredding or recycling of these e-waste products.

It also does not help to bury these gadgets underground for they will always emit their toxins in such kinds of environment. In order to avoid these toxic footprints, those dealing directly with environmental issues need to educate and make people aware of the dangers of interacting with e-waste.

As we sit in whatever type of houses we own or rented ones with piles of malfunctioning DVDs on top of each other, hordes of obsolete refrigerators consuming square meters of space and heaps of disused cellphones forming part of an archive in the rooms, let us not forget about the danger we are nursing.

Also as government allows these gadgets into the country, it should be having mechanisms for disposing of them.

Reference can be made to generators that became so popular during the days of this country’s chronic shortage of electricity, they are now redundant and despicable to the eyesight.

People do not know what to do with them because when they were allowed to get into the country they had no back-up parts.

Those are the dangers of being a dumping site, we are forced to create space for other nations’ crap.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on:


  1. It is unfortunate that a writer who contributes such a good article on the dangers of e-waste has an “email address” which keeps bouncing back. Daily News could you please verify this contributor’s email address.

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