Under a patched umbrella protecting him from the sun, Ismael Alioum rummages through piles of electronic waste in search of materials to recover: in the district of scrap metal dealers in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, the informal activity is in full swing while a non-profit organization (NGO) proposes a sustainable alternative to manage this waste.
In Cameroon, the processing of the tons of electronic waste produced each year is mainly in the hands of informal actors, trained on the job, "by observing from day to day", admits Ismaël Alioum.
According to the scrap metal dealer, Chinese and Indian operators are very active in the sector and buy their supplies mainly from the informal sector.
Without gloves or a protective mask, the 46-year-old man hammers an old voltage regulator. "Iron and plastic are in high demand," he explains, his hands full of mud. Next to him, three young men with screwdrivers and knives are also attacking old electronic devices.
"They take out what is useful and leave the rest in nature, including what is toxic for the environment," deplores Armel Poughela, director of Solidarité technologique, an NGO that offers an alternative to the informal sector by giving a new life to this equipment in compliance with environmental standards.
"Electronic waste contains harmful substances that can cause illnesses such as cancer in humans when released into the environment," says Didier Yimkoua, an environmental activist and president of the NGO World Action Phyto Protection."When scrap metal dealers break cathode ray tubes, mercury or lead is released, which is dangerous for them and for the population," he says.
In 2012, Cameroon adopted a law on the management of electronic waste, making Solidarité technologique, founded in 2011, one of the first operators to obtain state approval to carry out this activity. Some 25 operators benefit from this, but only two are active in the field.
The NGO recovers defective equipment from companies and households, "to avoid waste ending up in the bin", explains Augustin Kenné, head of the dismantling section.
Target 5,000 tonnes
Collections are now made by appointment thanks to the NGO's awareness-raising work, says Camille Ndomo, an employee of Solidarité technologique, who is loading onto his tricycle a gas hob, a TV screen and a landline telephone that have just been recovered from a house in the Ewonkan district, east of Yaoundé.
In the association's premises, a dozen employees armed with gloves and masks sort, wash and then dismantle old screens, computer parts and electrical wires, before repairing them to sell them at a lower cost in their shop.
According to Armel Poughela, Cameroon is the first African country to have legislated on the management of electronic waste. A binding law regulates the activity and requires environmental permits for anyone wishing to work in this sector.
"Over the past three years, we have collected an average of 130 tonnes of waste per year," says Armel Poughela, who adds that "about 50" tonnes of waste have been "recovered" (reused) or destroyed.
The waste that the NGO cannot destroy or transform on site is sent to partners in Douala, the economic capital, and in Europe where expertise in the field is more developed.
There is no study to assess the quantity of electronic waste produced by companies and households in Cameroon, but recycling remains low, "because the activity is not profitable", says Armel Poughela, particularly because of the lack of infrastructure. "We need to reach a volume of 5,000 tonnes per year to cover our costs," he adds.
To achieve this and the Sustainable Development Goals, the NGO is counting on the construction of a plant to crush and incinerate waste that cannot be recycled. "We have obtained a one-hectare site in Douala, but we do not yet have the necessary funding," concludes Mr Poughela.
Sustainability is the key to a healthy environment. Humans generate a lot of waste, much of which now affects the air we breathe, the water we drink, and land on which we live. According to the United Nations, about 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected worldwide, almost all of which comes from humans alone. We therefore not only need to manage this waste but also come up with strategies that will manage such waste sustainably. Ideas by the global society like this help to manage the waste in a sustainable kind of way.