South African e-Waste recycling rates unknown

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Wednesday, September 12, 2012

<p>E-waste is believed to be the fastest growing type of waste even though it is the smallest in volume (Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_12421226_small-heap-of-mixed-electronic-waste.html'>inganielsen / 123RF Stock Photo</a>).</p>

E-waste is believed to be the fastest growing type of waste even though it is the smallest in volume (Image credit: inganielsen / 123RF Stock Photo).

“Current waste management legislation in South Africa does not require landfill site owners and recyclers to keep accurate records regarding e-waste volumes and therefore accurate figures on e-waste volumes and recycling of e-waste in South Africa are currently unknown” says Keith Anderson chairman of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA).  Anderson believes that e-waste recycling rates in South Africa are improving but are not at an international standard yet due to poor education and the high cost of e-waste recycling plants.

What is e-waste?

Electronic waste (e-waste) also known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is classified as any end of life 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. With the advance of the electronic and IT industry e-waste is the fastest growing type of waste even though it is still the smallest in volume says Anderson.

Global e-waste recycling figures

Global figures predict that the average person produces roughly 12kg’s of e-waste annually and only 10-15% of this is recycled worldwide notes Anderson. The remaining 85% is sent to landfill or is incinerated.  Some e-waste contains hazardous substances such as lead and mercury which when dumped at landfill sites can leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater. Informal waste collectors can be exposed to these hazardous substances when recovering e-waste from landfill sites.  Furthermore, incinerating e-waste can result in toxic gases being released into the atmosphere.

What happens to e-waste that is sent for recycling in South Africa?

At e-waste recycling facilities in South Africa the end of life electrical products are dismantled into different fractions, such as plastic, ferrous metals and precious metals.  Many types of e-waste contain valuable and rare metals such as gold, indium and palladium which can be reclaimed. Some of the ferrous metals are used as secondary raw materials in manufacturing processes and other fractions such as plastic can be sent for recycling or used to make new products such as manhole covers and garden fences.

Many developed countries ship their e-waste to developing countries where workers in poor conditions disassemble the waste exposing themselves to the hazardous substances, says Anderson. Anderson states that although it is not common there are incidences of e-waste being shipped outside of South Africa for disposal.  

eWASA Industry Waste Management Plan

eWASA is preparing an Industry Waste Management Plan which will be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs later this year. Recycling plants for e-waste are expensive to set up and this poses a major challenge to the industry explains Anderson. The eWASA draft Industry Waste Management Plan proposes that a small green fee is paid by consumers when purchasing electronic products and that this fee is used to assist with the setting up of suitable recycling facilities says Anderson.

eWASA

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.

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Amanda Botes