Let’s clean that e-waste!
Evelyn Seltier of the International Trade Centre talked with Julie Repetti, co-founder of SetTIC, about the challenges and opportunities of going green in business – and how to finish off that e-waste sustainably.
What does SetTIC stand for?
“Set” means “clean” in wolof, and TIC is the French acronym for “information and communication technology”.
In 2008, Senegal saw several cases of lead poisoning due to informal battery management, and several people died, including a dozen children. While looking into the subject, we realized that there was no local solution, and that very few people are informed about the dangers of electronic waste, 99% of which is managed by the informal sector.
This is how we decided to create the first private structure to treat electronic waste, authorized by the Ministry of Environment.
Our mission is to help companies reduce the negative impact of their waste on the environment and public health in Africa, while addressing youth unemployment by creating ‘green’ and decent jobs.
What are the challenges when getting rid of e-waste?
E-waste contains toxic materials that are expensive to treat, ranging from appliances to lamps and solar panels. At SetTIC, we focus mainly on professional e-waste such as computers, printers, switch, telecom equipment, but also batteries, lamps and printer cartridges. We are also the only ones to recycle lamps in Senegal.
The main difficulty in managing this waste in Africa is that the process is costly. There is no subsidy or eco-organization to support structures like ours, which makes it difficult to reach a financial balance and explains why most structures end up closing.
How should companies deal with e-waste?
It is the responsibility of companies to manage their toxic waste. This also allows them to raise awareness among their employees and reach parts of the population.
Our main customers are often certified or audited companies with a Health and Safety policy in place. They are concerned about their environmental impact and want to fully trace their waste (which is our added value). We also support them in their efforts to reduce their ecological impact.
How willing are other companies to go “green”?
In Senegal, there is no legislation which “forces” companies to be green. Recycling is a cost that they are not often willing to pay, especially when the informal sector comes and buys off dangerous waste.
The main motivation of companies willing to work with us is the positive impact on their image and their communication, knowing that the environment is now an important issue for major international donors.
What are your recommendations for a greener future?
With our increasing consumption of electronics, electronic waste remains a big issue for all of us around the world. It is essential for developing countries to strengthen legislation in this area and put in place favourable conditions for companies when it comes to recycling.
Otherwise, the informal sector will continue to return toxic products to nature, and the number of deaths will be higher and higher, not to mention the irreversible ecological damage. We need strong international decisions and implementation.
SetTIC was part of the International Trade Centre’s Netherlands Trust Fund IV (NTF IV) project in Senegal, which supported the development of the local IT/ITES sector, funded by the Netherlands.