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1 Aug 2021

Ray Mwareya and Bernard Chiketo, China Dialogue

Zimbabwe: Solar installations imported from China frequently end up as harmful e-waste due to defects and improper disposal

"The high cost of Zimbabwe’s cheap solar gear", 18 June 2021

Access to electricity in rural areas is as low as 21%, with 63.5% of all households in Zimbabwe dependent on wood for cooking. [...] Zimbabwe is a sunshine-rich country, enjoying a remarkable 7.5 hours of sunlight a day. [...]

Solar equipment made in China, including batteries, photovoltaic panels, cables and inverters, have become popular in Zimbabwe due to their relatively low price. Such equipment, entering either lawfully or via smugglers, makes up the majority of Zimbabwe’s energy equipment retail market, according to Tawanda Chitiyo, the founder of renewable energy start-up Tawanda Energy. However, the equipment is often substandard and promoted by false claims. And much of it ends up in unregulated urban dumps. [...]

Zimbabwe receives so many faulty foreign gadgets because most consumers can’t afford the new stuff. [...] It is not only Chinese merchants living in Zimbabwe who stand accused of selling defective solar gadgets. Lots of native Zimbabwe merchants also hawk poor products. [...]

Smuggling substandard equipment ultimately contributes to Zimbabwe’s waste problem. According to Chitiyo: “Defective solar lanterns and panels are not being properly disposed of in these communities. Most solar panels will end up as toys for the kids to play with.”

“Solar panels are sealed off with glass, most likely the glass will break or get damaged, exposing children and the environment to harmful substances,” he added. Toxic chemicals released from panels may include copper indium selenide, lead and polyvinyl fluoride. [...]