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HP turns e-waste into sustainable business

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HP has joined forces with the Global Digital Global Solidarity Fund (DSF) and the Swiss Institute for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) to address the growing problem of electronic waste (e-waste) in Africa, aiming to both reduce potential health and environmental hazards caused by improper disposal of electronic waste and create jobs in disadvantaged communities. 

As IT use and its contribution to economic growth in Africa increases, so too does the amount of electronic waste. Whilst electronic equipment is harmless during its life, the presence of substances like mercury and lead can pose risks if it is incorrectly recycled. Yet valuable substances, such as gold and copper, can be harvested from old electronic goods. This has spawned an efficient informal sector which recycles much of this waste.
To tackle this problem HP, DSF and Empa are undertaking analysis and providing support for improved recycling processes over the coming year. The project aims to develop a blueprint for electronic waste management in Africa in conjunction with existing recycling schemes, with the proposal for large scale deployment due in December 2008.
The initial phase consists of a pilot project in South Africa together with an analysis of existing practices in Morocco, Kenya and Tunisia.
“We see this project as a means to help develop an infrastructure to safely deal with electronic waste based on local habits and structures’’, says Klaus Hieronymi, heading the HP Environment Business Management Organisation for HP Europe Middle East and Africa.
“We hope that this initial analysis will enable us to create a widespread public private partnership (PPP) that will not only improve health and environmental standards, but also help disadvantaged communities by promoting skills and creating jobs.”
Dr Mathias Schluep, project manager for Sustainable Technology Cooperation from Empa, adds: “This issue requires a specifically tailored solution. Given the number of people involved in the informal sector we are looking to develop effective methods of dealing with waste that will allow this sector to flourish in a safe and sustainable manner.
The Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) is an international organisation entirely dedicated to reducing the digital divide. Its objective is to equip the developing world with the means to access the knowledge society. Through access to ICT and valuable content, the DSF works at community level to promote the development of marginalised populations. The DSF collaborates with local and national authorities, the private sector, international organisations and NGOs, as well as civil society.
Empa is the multidisciplinary research institute for material science and technology of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) domain. It specialises in applications-oriented research and development, as well as in offering services to help solving demanding problems in the fields of sustainable materials science and technology.