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How digital dumps imperil the future

Sunday February 25 2018


Old computers at the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Centre on March 26, 2015. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Compared with a decade ago, a typical household in Kenya today has several mobile phones, a computer and possibly a tablet.

Many families have many more smart devices. To give us information and entertainment, these gadgets live on a constant supply of electric power.

Unfortunately, the country’s electricity supply is not growing in tandem with the number of gadgets we are adding to the power sockets.

This must be concerning, especially because, as the country’s economy grows, so will the number of people with disposable income.

Much of this additional income is spent on new, bigger and better devices. For many, digital gadgets are a status symbol.

To catch up with the Joneses, some people will replace their phone and digital devices in their living rooms or offices.

The software and hardware companies have also stacked the deck. They make sure that these gadgets have an expiry date so that consumers make another trip for a new one.


They build software that is incompatible with older devices, therefore piling pressure on the owners to dump their older gadgets for the latest.

It is not uncommon for phone manufactures to stop supporting older phones, leaving their frustrated customers with only one option — to buy new ones.

Whether from breakdown, slow-down, or just the availability of a newer model, many people discard electronics at the slightest inconvenience.

Electricity is not the only cause for concern as far as this digital explosion is concerned.  Digital disposal is another. The cost of repairing some of these gadgets far exceeds the cost of replacement.

Disposal leads to what is known as electronic waste, or in short, e-waste. E-waste is becoming a huge ecological problem affecting air, water and soil. Dead gadgets end up in landfills or dumpsites, where they are either burnt or reused.

Discarded digital devices are loaded with toxins — mercury, lead, silver and more — that find their way into the environment.


For example, when scavengers burn some of the gadgets in search of metals such as copper, the fumes — with all their impurities — mix with the air. The contaminated air finds home in our lungs; corrodes our insides, and causes diseases that only God can cure.

For the same reasons, the quality of water and soil on which we depend, is getting more and more toxic.

Our country, sadly, doesn’t seem to have a strategy to educate Kenyans on the dangers of poor e-waste management.

For example, the country should require manufactures of these gadgets to play a role in containing the waste.

One way would be for the manufactures to buy back old devices from users at a small price.

That would encourage the gadget users to take them back for better disposal or refurbishing.


Companies can salvage some of the parts of these devices and use them in repairing or in making new ones. In return, the government can offer tax concessions to companies playing by these rules. This would be a no-brainer, win-win strategy.

The government and its appropriate arms should educate Kenyans on the good ways of e-waste disposal and give them incentives so that they comply.

Anything short of this will lead to a poisoned environment and deadly diseases, yet we are still far from effectively halting the spread of diseases that have plagued us for ages.

The government and other stakeholders should also lead the way in finding sources of electricity to power the growing number of gadgets.

Isn’t it foolish that we are reducing the forest cover as fast as we are acquiring new gadgets? Where do we expected to get rivers to generate electricity to juice-up these power-hungry devices? We should nurture technology but at the same time, protect the environment.

The writer is an informatics specialist. [email protected] @samwambugu2