General News of Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Source: B&FT

Ghana imports 31,000 tonnes of “toxics”

Official data released by the Ghana Shippers Authority say the country imported 31,400 metric tonnes of used electrical appliances last year, representing 74.6 percent increase compared to the 2009 figure of 17,987 metric tonnes.

The port of Tema handled 72 percent of the total importation, which amounted to 23,623 metric tonnes, while the port of Takoradi handled the remaining 7,768 metric tonnes, representing 28 percent.

According to the data, 17,765 metric tonnes came from the United Kingdom last year, higher than the 2009 figure of 10,659 metric tonnes.

Imports from the North Continent, including Germany, Holland and Denmark, increased from 2,812 metric tonnes in 2009 to 4,830 metric tonnes, while imports from Mediterranean Europe jumped from 2,564 metric tonnes in 2009 to 3,954 metric tonnes during the period.

The data also show that the North America range recorded 1,220 metric tonnes, higher than the previous figure of 949 metric tonnes. The Far East, Africa and others recorded 2,810, 297 and 524 metric tonnes respectively, higher than the previous figures of 786, 98 and 119 metric tonnes.

The second-hand electrical import business is a highly booming sector in the country - both formal and informal. The sector enjoys high patronage from all levels of the societal spectrum in Ghana due to the inability of many Ghanaians to afford brand-new products.

Importers of second-hand goods have repair and refurbishment capacities to handle damaged or outdated equipment. Some importers use their refurbishment capacities also for promotions.

Importers sell electrical appliances and accessories in shops or on the street directly to the general public. It is estimated that there are currently more than 300 importers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment in the country.

Ghana has an unregulated and unrestricted import regime for second-hand electrical and electronic equipment. In the case of the importation and sale of used air-conditioners, refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers and freezers, there are specific prohibitions in Legislative Instrument (LI) 1932 (2008), but there is lack of enforcement.

Though the Energy Commission this month reiterated a ban on importation of second-hand refrigerators to take effect in December 2012, environmental analysts believe it will take a political effort to enforce the ban since it is not the first time.

But the Executive Secretary of the Energy Commission, Dr. Alfred Ofosu-Ahenkora, says the ban is in compliance with an international directive. He added: “Ghana is signatory to the Montreal protocol which sanctioned the ban.

“The whole world has banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons as a refrigerant. It took effect from January 1 this year and countries that do not comply could be fined by the international community,” he said.

Dr. Ahenkora explained that the second-hand refrigerators imported into the country have an energy component which is not conducive to the tropics.

“Users of such refrigerators pay three times more in electricity consumption than others in other countries who use the newly-efficient refrigerant.”

The Energy Commission, after the ban in 2012, will gradually begin to phase out the use of second-hand refrigerators in the country.

The move is in fulfilment of the Energy Commission’s regulations and will be jointly enforced by other stakeholders including the Ministries of Environment and Science, Trade and Industry and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, a recent report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said British companies are illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of harmful electronic waste such as old computers in West Africa, instead of recycling them.

Taking advantage of a lack of oversight of recycling procedures, a number of waste- management companies are taking unwanted televisions, phones and computers and selling them on to West Africa as goods, especially to Ghana and Nigeria.

“Consignments of such equipment arriving in West African ports are mostly e-waste, with about 75 percent of the electronic units arriving found to be broken," the report said.

“Importers seem willing to bring in containers mostly filled with e-waste because demand for electronics is so high that buyers are prepared to purchase untested items,” it said, adding that half-a-million computers were landing in Nigeria every month.

The Agency said its report is the product of an 18-month undercover investigation of “recycling companies and waste brokers,” focusing mostly on Britain’s southeast.

“The waste is then often dumped in African rubbish tips, then smashed, burned or stripped down by hand by scavengers, many of them young children, to remove salable parts like copper wires.”

It contains many toxic chemicals, the report said, including “dangerous metals ... flame retardants ... mercury ... (and) large amounts of lead,” so it is likely to be harmful to people living nearby or children who scavenge through dumps.

“The potential health consequences for those involved in this kind of work are dire -- reproductive and developmental problems; damaged immune, nervous and blood systems; kidney damage and impaired brain development in children.”