He refurbishes broken PCs, laptops, phones and secondhand gadgets classified as electronic waste, or “e-waste” that would otherwise end up as trash in Nduba, Rwanda’s only open-air dump in the outskirts of the capital.
“Sometimes we even use computer screens as TVs,” Nshimiyimanain says. Converting those screens to televisions then becomes a cheaper option, he adds, for “citizens who have low incomes and cannot afford buying a brand-new TV.”
In this age of scrambling for the newest high-tech phone, tablet or television, refurbishing broken and outdated gadgets might seem impractical. But for many countries, it’s an important link in the value chain of e-waste management.
Rwanda is one of only 13 countries in Africa that have passed national legislation regarding e-waste regulation, according to the report. And it has led to the first official recycling and refurbishing facility in the country.
Operational since early last year, this public-private partnership between the government and Dubai-based Enviroserve became a source of pride for Rwanda. The state-of-the-art plant near Kigali can process up to 10,000 metric tons of e-waste per year.
Rwanda’s focus on local action
According to managing director Olivier Mbera, Enviroserve has already repaired and refurbished more than 5,000 computers, which were sold to public schools. To date, it has processed more than 4,000 tons of e-waste and created more than 600 jobs.
“We’ve also mitigated more than 2,000 tons (of carbon), equivalent to emissions from all the equipment we have recycled,” he says.
Conveyor belts sort plastics from metals, while plexiglass chambers collect phosphor fumes from old tube TVs. Circuit boards pile up in bags and lithium batteries are constantly being tested. Every piece of e-waste is meticulously collected, compacted or crushed.
The hazardous materials are separated from the valuable ones for two reasons, Mbera says. “There are approximately €55 million ($66 million) of resources in (Rwanda’s) e-waste, and if they are not recovered, they’re affecting our economy. Also, there are a lot of hazardous materials that can contaminate the environment.”
The report also estimated as much as 20% of all e-waste gets exported — some of which is arriving on the African continent.
A golden opportunity
“Globally, waste is not only increasing in quantity, but also in its complexity and composition,” says Okechukwu Daniel Ogbonnaya, country representative for Rwanda at the Global Green Growth Institute, an intergovernmental organization for sustainable economic growth. “Within an electronic device, there’s gold, silver, platinum … and these sorts of elements could be extracted, providing new business opportunities for small businesses and even for municipalities in regard to generating revenue.”
“Rwanda (is) one of our earliest pioneer members and they’ve done really well when it comes to its transition to a green growth pathway,” he adds.
Mbera points to Enviroserve’s success in Rwanda as a potential spark for an e-waste movement, formal training and job creation across East Africa. “We’re negotiating and talking with different governments in Africa to also establish similar facilities in their countries,” he says.
One thing is certain: it will take all sectors to combat the growing e-waste crisis, whether on a large scale like Rwanda’s Enviroserve or from a local business like Nshimiyimanain’s repair shop.
“The world is tech-driven and everything we need is through the use of technology,” Nshimiyimanain says. “When equipment invented by someone else gets spoiled and I’m able to repair these gadgets, it makes me very happy.”