Building Capabilities among E-scrappers in Informal Electronic Waste Management: The case of the Nigerian E-scrappers

Omokaro, Benedicta Ideho (2016). 'Building Capabilities among E-scrappers in Informal Electronic Waste Management: The case of the Nigerian E-scrappers' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract We exist in a world where technology and electronic devices continually plays a significant role in our day to day lives. With this increasing dependence comes a troubling realization that the resultant waste known as electronic waste, is facing inefficient management. Electronic waste has therefore become one of the fastest growing environmental issues that is slowly gaining significant recognition. Electronic waste hereto referred to as e-waste, has largely been studied in terms of its chemical properties, its economic value, its environmental implications when not properly disposed and its interactions between human agencies -formal and informal recyclers- and the environment. Studies have shown that recycling practices, in particular informal ones, have been detrimental to the environment. Thus, emphasis has been placed on the need for proper, formal recycling and the condemnation of the practices of informal recyclers specifically e-scrappers in the informal recycling sector. Yet, the informal recycling sector continues to grow with new recruits each passing day. While studies have attributed the continuous growth to the economic value e-waste presents for the informal recyclers, there has been a lack of research, especially in the social sciences, on the capabilities e-scrappers acquire over the years in the informal management of e-waste; as well as the factors that influence these capabilities. This study therefore, fills this gap by investigating the key capabilities e-scrappers possess and what they lack. By key capabilities, I refer to qualities such as the ability to recognize the vibrant nature of e-waste, tools available to them, book-keeping and unique extraction methods, which e-scrappers have developed over time. In this study, the vibrant nature of e-waste refers to the market value e-scrappers place on extracted materials as well as the availability of buyers. Utilizing videography methods for analyzing video based interviews collected among 29 male e-scrappers in Nigeria; this study applies capability approach as a theoretical framework to examine the driving forces behind e-scrappers’ actions in the informal recycling of e-waste. Results from data analysis reveal that over time, e-scrappers in Nigeria have developed effective extraction methods, which are based on individual abilities. This unique extraction ability gives them the competitive advantage they need to stay on top among their peers. Driven by the pursuit of aspirations such as financial security, societal recognition and family acceptance, e-scrappers invest in improving their capabilities within the community and vice versa. Interestingly, the e-scrappers also acquire managerial and book-keeping skills required to transact business with middle men and manufacturing companies. The initial initiative for engaging with e-waste such as financial security and societal recognition, are not the only factors that influence e-scrappers’ capabilities. The presence of the social network and its agents, such as e-waste buyers, also enhances the practices involved in the e-scrapping of e-waste. Finally, the results also show that e-scrappers understand their role in the sustainable management of e-waste. They acknowledge the importance of proper disposal of emergent waste from their e-scrapping activities and upholding the environmental laws of the state. They have a clear understanding with the local environmental enforcement agencies, which prohibits them from carrying out such practices as open burning of e-waste especially among residential buildings. This helps to create that feeling of being useful and responsible participants of the society.

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