Electronic waste(e-waste) is a topical issue of concern in Nigeria and globally due to its high rate of generation, trans-boundary shipments to developing countries and the absence of basic e-waste collection storage and recycling infrastructure in those developing countries, including Nigeria. The adoption of inappropriate management practices of e-waste, especially by the informal sector, results in environmental pollution and human exposure to hazardous chemical. The Nigerian Government has taken a lead role to combat the challenge by developing a legislative framework to ensure environmentally sound management (ESM) of e-waste. This brought about the need for producers of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) to set up a Producer Responsibility Organization – the E-waste Producer Responsibility Organization of Nigeria (EPRON) to fulfil their obligations and ensure ESM of e-waste in Nigeria.
To ensure that an appropriate foundation for collection and ESM of e-waste is laid in the country, EPRON saw the need to conduct a study to determine consumers’ behaviour in relation to EEE. This study, therefore, aimed to gain a better understanding of consumers’ (households and corporate organizations) behaviour towards the circular economy in the EEE sector (purchase, repair, e-obsolescence, and disposal); the level of organization of the negative impacts of e-waste; and the knowledge of existing regulations governing the EEE sector in Nigeria. The study also investigated e-waste generation patterns, existing management practices; motivations and barriers to proper e-waste disposal, and collection approaches that consumers prefer. The study was carried out in six states (Lagos, Kano, Abia, Rivers, Ogun, and Adamawa) and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). Three LGAs were selected from each of the states and within each of the selected LGAs/municipal areas four communities were selected.
The data collection exercise was conducted over a period of eight days. Electronic data collection techniques were utilized, namely KoboCollect and Microsoft Office Form. The developed questionnaires were appropriately programmed into KoboCollect to collect data from consumers and collectors. Various stakeholders’ opinions, including those of producers, consumers, and regulatory bodies and government agencies were accessed with in-depth interview (IDI) questions programmed on Microsoft Office Form.
The study revealed that more than 90% of the surveyed consumers were unaware of a government-driven Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Programme in the EEE sector in Nigeria while 74% were not cognizant of the national regulation governing ewaste management. This was also the case among collectors and corporate Organizations. About 61.6% of the collectors were unaware; in a similar vein, only 39% of the corporate Organizations were aware, thus, indicating that 61% were unaware. With this low level of awareness of the EPR programme by individuals and corporates, it is unsurprising to see that most of the respondents were also unaware that EPRON exists and fulfils producer obligations for the EEE sector. The level of awareness of the term circular economy (CE), was rather low among individual consumers (27.6%) and their corporate (44%) counterparts. CE practices were inadvertently prolific among the consumers as reflected in their preference for more durable but more expensive devices; about 82.3% of the respondents currently repaired their malfunctioning EEE. Consumers also reported that they gave up e-waste for reuse by others, replaced their products only when they were no longer functional. These are CE approaches that these consumers had organically imbibed most probably due to socio-cultural factors; however, they were unable to relate them to the term because they were unaware of the term Circular Economy. The consumers also pointed out that the high cost of repair, lack of trust in the technicians, and inadequate skilled technicians discouraged the repair and reuse of EEE.
Only 32% of the respondents were motivated to recycle e-waste because they care about the environment. Until all consumers are motivated to recycle e-waste because they care about the environment, more e-waste will continue to be handled by the informal sector, the vast majority (76%) of which had no health and safety training, neither did they use personal protective equipment (PPE), and were mostly unaware of the risks in dealing with hazardous materials.
In examining the e-waste generation patterns, it was discovered that the e-waste types most frequently generated by the consumers were mobile phones (33.5%), television (12.3%), pressing irons (9.8%), radios and freezers (5.2%), all of which are mostly household items. These e-waste were generated mostly because the products no longer functioned, since the study revealed that majority of the consumers did not stop using their EEE until they became malfunctional. Such malfunctional devices are usually repaired and reused. In spite of this long lease of life that products are given, each of the respondents had generated an average of two e-waste items in the past five years, thus indicating the level of local e-waste generation in the country. It is also noteworthy to mention that huge amounts of non-functional EEE are in storage especially the portable devices (e.g. mobile phones), so there is indeed a lot to be harvested.
As regards the fate of these e-waste generated, the study revealed that an average of 13.4% of faulty EEE were given out by consumers to family and friends, 12.4% are sold and 22.5% were stored. Most of the respondents (48.0%) indicated that they sold their e-waste to door-to-door collectors, 19.1% disposed theirs with household trash, while 17.2% gave such gadgets to family and friends. Only 1.2% of consumers used approved e-waste disposal facilities (e-waste collection centres).
The 48.0% of respondents who used the informal collectors did so for the financial incentive without formal knowledge of the health implications of unsound management of e-waste. Many consumers revealed that if incentivised, they were willing to dispose e-waste formally through the right channels to ensure its ESM. They also highlighted that the collection centres were grossly inadequate as majority did not know of the existence of any collection centres in their locality. For the EPR to survive, two major challenges to formal e-waste collection in Nigeria must be addressed: namely, the absence of collection infrastructure and consumers’ preference for cash incentives in exchange for their e-waste. The latter makes the option of dealing with the informal recyclers more attractive.
In view of the foregoing, massive awareness and advocacy programmes are required to educate consumers on CE and its application; on the adverse effects associated with indiscriminate e-waste management practices and also on the value of ESM. This will increase the consumers’ desire to channel their e-waste through formal documented channels for ESM and reduce indiscriminate recycling and polluting activities. Complimentary efforts in areas of awareness and advocacy to enlighten the informal collectors on the illegality of their polluting practices and efforts to channel them to formal collection practices is required on the part of regulatory agencies and EPRON. The inadequacy of collection centres needs to be addressed; more collection centres need to be made available and accessible to consumers. In response to consumers’ preference to give back their e-waste at the household level in exchange for cash incentives, e-waste collection models actively integrating door-todoor collection through informal collectors need to be developed and adopted to facilitate improved take-back. Even though consumers prefer to give up to collectors, a realistic incentive commensurate with the parallel informal market is required.
To fill the gap for collection infrastructure in these States and subsequently across the country, investment in collection infrastructure is required. Investors are encouraged to come along, prioritizing solutions according to the identified generation patterns. While further studies are still required for the quantification of e-waste generation rates in households to strengthen investors’ conviction on the return on their investments, it is clear that large quantities of e-waste are actively being generated and many are still in storage. So clearly the availability is certain and the fact that about 61% of respondents expressed willingness to pay to encourage effective recycling of e-waste in order to safeguard the environment, implies that with adequate awareness, behavioural patterns will change and returns on investments will be guaranteed.
Conscious and deliberate effort to train and certify technicians across the country who will provide expert and trusted repair services is also required on the part of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Producers. This will engender trust and enable consumers give their faulty EEE for a new lease of life. While there may be concerns that product sales would reduce when repair is guaranteed, it should be noted that it provides guaranteed part sales and will enhance Producers’ ability to attain product circularity which is an imperative for any sustainable electronics manufacturing in this 21st century. Organizations with the responsibility for providing Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) should also unlock these opportunities in partnership with EPRON. Strategies to drive investment in that sector needs to be taken on board without further delay.
To achieve the above and other important strides, the EPR system must move beyond mere existence; it needs to thrive. Collectors and Recyclers need the assurance that their EPR-based business models will endure. This will provide the requisite motivation to invest in requisite infrastructure to conduct ESM collection and recycling. All Producers must commit to fulfilling their EPR obligations as necessitated by the National Environmental Electrical/Electronic Regulation 2022 S.I. No 79, 2022. Formal registration of their Organizations and funding the collection and recycling according to their market share should be stressed. Lopsided funding, whereby some organizations participate while others are free-riding will not bode well for the EPR system. Ultimately, regulatory participation is required to enforce Producers’ compliance, the compliance of the downstream industry standard at the National and State levels, and also to raise awareness among Producers.