Uganda: Refugee Settlement Adopts Electronic Waste Management.


Solar lanterns of refugees were repaired and handed back to their owners under the  International Organization for Migration (IOM) project “Greening Humanitarian Responses Through Recovery, Repair, And Recycling of Solar Products in Displacement Settings”. 

For thousands of refugees residing in the Bidibidi settlement in northwestern Uganda, solar lanterns are the only source of light. According to one of the refugees, most of the solar lamps sold at the settlement do not last long and they have to keep buying new ones even though expensive.

The disposal of these solar products is a challenge and poses very serious health risks when they are not disposed of correctly. Disposing of these solar products incorrectly interferes with soil quality, which indirectly leads to poor crop yields and forest regeneration. This is a result of the highly hazardous metals and elements they contain like lead, cadmium, and chromium.

According to the UN’s 2020 Global E-waste Monitor, 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste were generated worldwide in 2019, and 74% of these were collected and recycled. The report predicts that e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030 globally, making it the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream. It is fueled mainly by higher electric and electronic equipment consumption rates, short life cycles, and few options for repair.

The International Organization for Migration is piloting a project to minimize the risks of e-waste in Bidibidi, by repairing and repurposing disused solar lanterns and lithium-ion batteries, whilst creating jobs and supporting livelihoods. This project will also raise awareness on the dangers of improper e-waste disposal as part of efforts to protect the environment.

They have partnered with Mercy Corps to set up product-collection and awareness-creation systems, employing ten community mobilizers across Bidibidi’s five zones and the host community. The team uses household visits, community meetings, and road drives to collect broken lanterns and sensitize the communities about the dangers of poor e-waste handling.

The collected items end up at the leading repair center, where technicians, using spare parts from Norwegian solar product company BRIGHT, repair the lanterns. Using a circular economy model, they pick viable pieces from spoilt lanterns to extend the life of others. Old lanterns get new batteries, while the old ones are tested by technicians, who assemble any viable cells into second-life battery packs. 

One of the refugees that were spoken to, Confisase Wani said, “We didn’t know where to take them [solar lanterns] for repair and we didn’t know the risk related to poor use of electronic products on health and the environment”

Local authorities are deeply impressed by the IOM’s e-waste project for supporting communities with alternative energy and easing access to repair and recycling services.

One of the seven technicians who project partners have trained in lantern repair, battery testing, and assembly, Reida Kiden said that working in the Batlab not only presents her with the opportunity to provide for her mother and four siblings but also keeps alive her dream of attaining higher education. Reida Kiden works in the Batlab, a specialized battery testing and repurposing facility. “People always tell me this is a man’s job, but every woman is capable of doing this because God has given us the gift and the talent. My dream was to be a nurse, but I know I am going to pursue a course related to my current work,” says Kiden, who now wants to be an electrical engineer. 

In close coordination with project partner Solvoz, IOM hopes to enhance knowledge transfer and information sharing on the procurement aspect of the solar e-waste value chain. Critical issues like e-products sustainability criteria focusing on toxicity, quality, repairability, resource management, corporate responsibility, and local production of solar products, among others, have been discussed in close coordination with key humanitarian and private sector stakeholders.

IOM also hopes that the findings from this pilot project will feed into sustainable procurement programs within the government, the private sector, and the United Nations. The project could also feed into broader initiatives such as the Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement and the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) global working groups.

“The impacts of climate change are being faced globally and with such approaches, we as humanitarian partners can put in place strategies to mitigate these effects. We are informing beneficiaries on both the health and environmental risks waste from end-of-life solar products pose, which will go a long way in reducing the dangers these wastes pose to human health and the environment,” says Sanusi Tejan Savage, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Uganda.

 To date, the e-waste project has repaired 3,412 solar lanterns out of the targeted 5,000. IOM and partners target to collect over 8,000 lanterns by the end of the project. The project also aims to assemble 260 battery packs sourced from viable lithium-ion cells salvaged from the repaired lanterns. The second-life batteries will be used to power small businesses and provide lighting to clinics, and educational institutions.

 “We have been using the new lamp to study each night. Now I know my schoolwork will get better,” says one of Wani’s children.

Innovation Norway funds the project.


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