19 June 2019: The UN Environment Programme, the Global Environment Facility and the Government of Nigeria announced an initiative to create a circular system for electronics in Nigeria. The initiative aims to address the negative impacts of current practices in electronics waste management on the country’s environment and the health of its citizens.

Nigeria processes more than half a million tonnes of discarded appliances annually, according to UNEP. In 2017, Nigeria generated 290,000 tonnes of electronic waste, a 170% increase from 2009. In addition, it receives over 60,000 tonnes of used electronics and electrical equipment from other countries through Lagos ports, and an unknown amount enteres Nigeria via land routes from neighboring countries. Over 25% of this e-waste is classified as “dead on arrival—heading straight to dumps or dismantling.” This waste is often burned, releasing heavy metals and toxic chemicals into Nigeria’s air, soil and water.

The initiative will encourage electronics producers to assume responsibility for the lifecycle of their products, and support related legislation.

Approximately 100,000 Nigerians work in the country’s informal e-waste recycling sector, collecting and dismantling electronics to salvage saleable components. These workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals and experience other health challenges, including eye infections, dermatological and respiratory problems, and below-average life expectancy.

To address these environmental and health challenges, the ‘Circular Economy Approaches for the Electronic Sector in Nigeria’ project will bring together the government, private sector and civil society to initiate a self-sustaining circular economy approach for electronics that protects the country’s environment and creates safe employment. The project aims to collect, treat and dispose of over 270 tonnes of e-waste contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs), as well as 30 tonnes of e-waste containing mercury.

The initiative will support the E-waste Producers Responsibility Organization (EPRON) to promote sustainable production and consumption through encouraging producers to assume responsibility for the lifecycle of their products. The project also will support implementation of extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, work with the private sector to develop cost-effective value retention businesses, such as disposal systems and recycling for electronic products, and ensure improved working conditions for informal e-waste collectors and recyclers. These actions will contribute to progress on SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), including SDG target 12.4 on achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes throughout their life cycle to minimize adverse impacts of human health and the environment.

UNEP highlights the “enormous economic potential” of safe e-waste recycling, noting that there is 100 times more gold in one tonne of e-waste than in one tonne of gold ore. Other valuable and scarce materials, including cobalt and platinum, also can be recovered through efficient and safe recycling.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen emphasized that “the environmental and economic benefits of a circular economy are clear.” She described UNEP’s partnership with the Government of Nigeria and GEF as a “positive step in the country’s effort to kickstart a circular electronics systems.” Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO, called for “radically rethink[ing] our relationship with natural resources and key economic systems” to achieve a world without waste. She said this initiative will help bring together actors across the supply chain and across industries to “put this new way of thinking into practice.”

The project is the first demonstration project in area of electronics for the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE). PACE was launched during the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting to drive public-private action on the circular economy. The long-term ambition of the circular electronics project in Nigeria is that a single model is created for application in Nigeria, which would then be replicated across other countries in Africa. [UNEP Press Release] [GEF Press Release]