Africa becoming the dumping ground for eWaste

EwasteA growing amount of computer equipment from Western nations is being found on toxic eWaste dumps throughout Africa and is being pulled apart by children as young as five


A computer monitor from a prominent Australian bank was recently found on a toxic eWaste dump in Ghana. This raises serious questions about the integrity and regulations of Australia's growing eWaste problem and even though it is illegal to export redundant computer equipment, that is considered hazardous waste, it is still happening.

In South Africa, there are laws that regulate the disposition of eWaste, these include Protection of Personal Information Act 2013 (PoPI 2013), the National Environmental Waste Management Act 2008 (NEMWA 2008) and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA).

Xperien CEO Wale Arewa says penalties for poor disposal of redundant IT assets could be costly but this could be prevented by adopting an IT asset disposition policy. This can be helpful in managing the decommissioning of IT devices and their contents appropriately.

Most companies have masses of eWaste waiting to be discarded, this could include servers and storage devices, computers, tablets, phones and fax machines. They have the option of donating them to charities, throwing them away or selling them, but the penalties for poor disposal could be costly.

“The biggest problem is the information stored in these devices. When we discard any IT equipment, we also release that information. Companies don't really know what information is stored on a specific device," he explains.

Information stored on the IT equipment can lead to the loss of other information and a company's reputation can be damaged. Regaining that reputation can be costly, time-consuming and maybe not even possible.

eWaste may contain information such as databases, personal data, private information, passwords, application IDs, links to secure websites and information, financial data, intellectual property, healthcare information and data on friends and relatives. Losing intellectual property information could result in severe revenue damage.

Arewa points to IT asset disposition policy (ITAD) as a documented process for determining the effectiveness of IT organisations and their ability to protect their business. "Companies need to decommission IT devices and their contents effectively. A proper policy includes the need to control the data that is stored on the IT equipment, its disposition, removal, and transfer."

He says there are two reasons for having an IT asset disposition policy. "You need to track your assets and ensure you efficiently use them during their normal life. This is a matter of ensuring that your investment is successful."

"Also, the ability to ensure that you comply with the increasing number of regulations and compliance requirements surrounding IT assets. IT asset disposal is also a concern to environmental organisations so you need an enforceable policy with standardised practices across your organisation to make this work," he adds. 

Creating a policy means one should develop a set of best practices and a framework that includes documenting all the IT assets. More importantly, one needs to set up policies for data destruction, asset tracking, complying with data security standards, and regulatory compliance requirements.

"Discuss the ITAD policy with others in your organisation including procurement, finance, facilities management and legal. Security may have the most to contribute. Also, do not underestimate the potential risks, plan for IT disposal as you plan for the lifecycle of the IT devices," he adds.

"Finally, use your employees to help flag violations. Also ensure that your employees know that when they do not adhere to the policy, there will be penalties," he concludes.

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