E-waste disposal options for business

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recycling initiatives in offices around South Africa have gained momentum as companies have started to become more aware of their impact on the environment. Whilst most organisations know how to recycle paper, glass and plastic, correctly disposing of electronic waste (e-waste) is often not featured in company waste management plans.

E-waste, also known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is classified as any unwanted electrical equipment and includes white goods, such as microwaves, fridges and washing machines; consumer electronics such as televisions; and IT products, which includes computers, cellphones and printers.

In the last decade South Africa has seen growth in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) area. More South African citizens have personal computers and cellphones than ever before due to rapid technology change, low initial costs and decreased lifespan of electronic products. The result of this is that the turnover time of electronic equipment has increased dramatically and electronic equipment is replaced within a short period of time. In office environments computers, fax machines and printers often have very short lifespans. It is estimated that several thousand tonnes of e-waste is generated yearly by the corporate world in South Africa.

Large amounts of e-waste are either stored away or are dumped on our landfills. Not only is the space that they take up a problem, but electronic goods often contain hazardous substances such as lead, mercury and cadmium and if these chemicals enter the water table can be ingested. These substances must be disposed responsibly. E-waste also contains valuable materials such as copper and nickel which can be reclaimed.

Disposing of electronic waste (e-waste) can be done responsibly. Key steps for organisations in South Africa to consider are:

  1. Purchasing electronic items with a longer lifespan so that the turnover of electronic products is decreased.
  2. Donating old equipment to a local school or charity in need. Having the equipment refurbished before donating will make it more likely that the equipment will be used for an extended period of time.
  3. Recycling items that cannot be reused or donated to a school or charity. The e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) has a list of drop off points around the country where e-waste can be dropped off and is then recycled. These companies disassemble the items and recycle the plastic and metals. However, recycling should be the last resort and reusing equipment is far kinder to the environment.

eWASA is a non-profit organisation that was established in 2008 to develop an e-waste management system for South Africa.  eWASA works with manufacturers, vendors, distributors and refurbishers and recyclers so that e-waste can be managed effectively. They can be contacted directly for information on where to refurbish electronic items and where to dispose of e-waste.

Amanda Botes