There has been substantial positive technological development in recent years that has improved our lives in one way or another. However, as we celebrate these contributions, we are faced with a subsequent problem: What do we do with our old or obsolete electronics?
Our homes and offices are filled with an assortment of electronics. This might be because we hope that one day they might be revived, or we consider it a treasure that we cannot let go of given the amount of money we paid for it.
While many wonder what to do with the technological waste at our disposal, a group of young Kenyan innovators have started a venture that uses it as raw material to make useful and sought-after products.
Started by two ambitious innovators in a home garage in 2013, E-Lab is a start-up with a mission to clean up the environment, as well as offer job opportunities to the growing number of unemployed youth in Kenya. University students and art-lovers Alex Mativo and Simon Mumo say they were inspired to start the venture by the availability of so much obsolete electronics in their homes.
Electronic waste is now Kenya’s fastest growing waste component. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), over 17 000 tons of electronic waste is generated in the east African country every year. This includes personal computers, refrigerators and mobile phones.
The duo and their team collect electronic waste from households and electronic shops in Athi River, a growing urban centre a few kilometres from the capital, Nairobi. After collection, the electronics are taken to their warehouse where they are cleaned and sorted. What’s left is then transformed into various art pieces as per their clients’ needs, including jewellery and sculptures.
Joan Wanjiru, designer of E-lab’s fashion products, says they use everything from capacitors, to transistors and copper wire, incorporating colourful beads to give them a touch of diversity. According to Joan, they sell their creations to various models, corporates who promote conservation of the environment, as well as individual ladies who want to look good.
Their efforts have been gaining recognition. Earlier this year, Alex was among 21 young Africans to receive the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award for his role in working to solve the electronic waste problem while creating jobs for young people.
Soon, E-Lab aims to expand their operations:
“We see ourselves as the company that will absolve all that e-waste, and also create employment opportunities for people in Nairobi and all over Africa,” says Alex.