CNN  — 

For Eric Nshimiyimanain, who owns two small electronic repair shops in Kigali, Rwanda, the startup chime of an old Windows laptop is the sound of a business opportunity.

He refurbishes broken PCs, laptops, phones and secondhand gadgets classified as electronic waste, or “e-waste” that would otherwise end up as trash in Nduba, Rwanda’s only open-air dump in the outskirts of the capital.

“Sometimes we even use computer screens as TVs,” Nshimiyimanain says. Converting those screens to televisions then becomes a cheaper option, he adds, for “citizens who have low incomes and cannot afford buying a brand-new TV.”

Eric Nshimiyimanain (right) owns two small electronic repair shops in Kigali, Rwanda.

In this age of scrambling for the newest high-tech phone, tablet or television, refurbishing broken and outdated gadgets might seem impractical. But for many countries, it’s an important link in the value chain of e-waste management.

According to the UN-affiliated Global E-Waste Monitor report, nearly 54 million metric tons of e-waste was generated around the world in 2019. It includes everything from phones and computer monitors to larger appliances like refrigerators and old fax machines. Together, it weighs “more than all the commercial airliners ever made,” according to the UN.

Rwanda is one of only 13 countries in Africa that have passed national legislation regarding e-waste regulation, according to the report. And it has led to the first official recycling and refurbishing facility in the country.

Workers sort e-waste using a system of conveyor belts across Enviroserve's recycling facility near Kigali.

Operational since early last year, this public-private partnership between the government and Dubai-based Enviroserve became a source of pride for Rwanda. The state-of-the-art plant near Kigali can process up to 10,000 metric tons of e-waste per year.