Egypt is the third most populated country in Africa and it has one of Africa’s highest GDP. The e-waste generation of the country is therefore one of the highest of the continent. In addition, some e-waste is also imported, partly illegally.

Although the amount of e-waste in the country is high, the number of formal e-waste recyclers is low and these recyclers operate on a small scale. There is no formal collection system of e-waste, no specific regulation or financing mechanism, and the involvement of the producers is low compared to Europe. Most of the e-waste is therefore collected and treated through informal channels, with poor health and safety conditions, and high environmental impact.

However, the Green ICT initiative has created some momentum and various initiatives to improve to e-waste recycling have emerged that should be capitalized on. Also, the “Needs assessment of the e-waste sector in Egypt (CEDARE, EMPA, 2011)” has revealed the necessity to support small and medium sized enterprises (SME) development by providing financial, administrative legal and technical support through a “youth incubator programme”. Strategies aiming to improve the e-waste treatment in Egypt should therefore help formalizing recycling activities, with focus on building technology partnerships, implementing standards and improving conformity, developing a system for financing sound recycling, and training for the main stakeholders.

SRI Activities

Building technology partnerships

The existing e-waste management landscape is currently largely dominated by informal recycling practices operated in sub-standard conditions. Little information is available on the quality of the treatment process of the Egyptian informal sector. The recycling is most probably performed like in other informal recycling settlements studied in other countries of Africa or Asia, with poor health and safety conditions, and with high environmental issues (air pollution from the burning of cables, soil and water pollution from the dumping of hazardous waste, etc.). The problem is growing with the increasing amount of e-waste generated by Egyptian organizations and households.

The SRI project in Egypt supports SME that would like to become part of a sustainable e-waste recycling chain in Egypt. This support encompasses the transfer of know-how on recycling practices and technologies, with technical information, train the trainer activities and study tours, as well as the access to markets for recycling outputs. A specific emphasis will be paid to informal recyclers and ways to make them part of a more sustainable e-waste recycling system without endangering their livelihoods. This support will be organised through the “youth incubator programme”.

Standards and conformity

The SRI project in Egypt supports national attempts at developing a legal framework of e-waste recycling and implementing standards for sustainable e-waste recycling. The project should also support the authorities in identifying and accrediting an independent conformity assessment body, and training the conformity assessment body. With such an approach, recyclers will be able to prove via third-party certification that they apply best practices in terms of health and safety, pollution control and resource conservation.

System financing sound recycling

Standards to protect human health and the environment are costly. Thus, responsible recyclers are faced with the problem that they have significantly higher costs compared to recyclers not applying any health and safety or pollution control measures. This is particularly the case in Egypt, where households sell their e-waste to informal collectors, who offer cash money for each device handed out, and where most e-waste from organizations ends up in the informal recycling sector through tendering processes where the buyer offers money for the e-waste. In this situation, sound recyclers have severe difficulties to compete with collectors that are linked to crude recycling.

In order to bridge this structural disadvantage, additional revenue streams for sound recyclers need to be identified. This could be done based on the globally accepted concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The overall objective is to support the development of financing mechanisms ensuring the viability of all processes related to environmentally sound management of e-waste, with the involvement of the producers. Thus, the project should help existing producer platforms in the development of take back models, financing mechanisms and conformity assessment.

The SRI Programme in Egypt: over ten years developing the e-waste recycling sector

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