Tackling solar e-waste

What happens to our solar lights once they stop working? How can we keep them from contributing to Africa’s growing e-waste problem? These are questions that SolarAid is working on through its new e-waste project in Zambia which seeks to extend the life of small solar products through repair, refurbishment and recycling.

The ‘right to repair’ movement fights to give consumers the opportunities to repair their products. We have found the repair of solar products is becoming increasingly difficult with the advent of more customised parts and limited repair information. Our customers say they don’t have the necessary knowledge to fix their lights, and repair technicians tell us that they need more information and access to spare parts. Good quality replacement components for solar lanterns are nearly impossible to source, and technicians routinely turn customers away, leaving few repair options.

We believe everyone deserves the opportunity to repair, especially life changing solar lanterns. That’s why we’re trying to change things.

We collected old solar lights from rural Zambia, diagnosed their problems and tried to fix them. Armed with this knowledge we then developed a repair manual and a mobile app to allow others to diagnose problems and repair solar lights themselves. While some customers said they didn’t have the technical confidence, they all knew of a person in their village that did. Local repair agents undergoing additional training will provide a backbone of official ‘SunnyMoney repair’ technicians. This project sets the groundwork in building local confidence for solar product repair, but more needs to be done. We need repair-centred design in the sector, reliable access to good quality spare parts and continued technical training as new repair methods are discovered.

Ensuring our lights work for longer means fewer people choosing harmful lighting options and making sure we don’t contribute to Africa’s growing problem of e-waste. We’re ready for a repair revolution.

"A light is a life changing thing in a rural area. At night time, it's so dark, you're using candles, or kerosene or paraffin. A light really changes it. So when you get a light, and then it dies the first thing you want to do it have it repaired."
Courtney Paisley, E-waste Project Manager, Zambia