E-Waste in South Africa

Wednesday, 12 November, 2008 - 10:54

Keith Anderson of eWASA cautioned that: “Africa is becoming a dumping ground for America and Europe under the guise of donations.”

In a bid to tackle the problem of electronic-waste (e-waste) in South Africa, the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) hosted a one-day conference on 7 November 2008 in Johannesburg.

The conference was aimed at providing a platform to discuss the successes and lessons learnt while implementing electronic waste (e-waste) management systems. It also served as an opportunity for the project team to report on progress made thus far.

eWASA’s Keith Anderson warned that: “Africa is becoming a dumping ground for America and Europe under the guise of donations.” He said eWASA will engage the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) to keep track of donated equipment to the country.

University of the Witwatersrand Business School’s Gillian Marcelle, pointed out that e-waste includes items such as TVs, computers, LCD and plasma displays, and mobile phones, as well as a wide range of household, medical and industrial equipment which are simply discarded as new technologies become available.

“The quantities of e-waste to be disposed of are growing rapidly throughout the world and developing countries contribute a sizeable share”, she said.

Alan Finlay, who presented the results of eWASA’s national e-waste assessment, cautioned that: “E-waste volumes are expected to increase significantly in South Africa in the near future.”

Finlay, who believes that e-waste is a cross-sectoral concern, argued that government departments are likely to have a keen interest in the development of an e-waste management system in the country.

Recycling e-wastes

According to Anderson, the good news is that some corporates in the country are already embarking on their own programmes to curb the problem of e-waste.

Illustrating this Mari-Louise van der Walt of Eskom reported that the company has rolled out five million compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in the Western Cape in 2006. The lifespan of the CFLs are three years. However, Van der Walt cautions that although the CFLs are energy efficient, they can easily contaminate groundwater if dumped. She says CFLs contain mercury and should be separated from other wastes in order to minimise the risk.

Another Eskom representative, Latetia Venter, spoke about the ‘stigma’ associated with recycling amongst low income households and said this is one of the biggest problems facing Eskom in recycling CFLs.

Increased consumption in developing countries, especially of mobile phones, is blamed for accelerating e-waste. Responding to this, Nokia South Africa will be embarking on a nationwide initiative to encourage consumers to recycle their unused mobile devices.

Nokia’s Rory Little says that despite the fact that most people have old devices lying around at home they no longer want, their global survey showed that: “Only three percent of people recycle their unused mobile phones.”

In a similar vein, Recover-e-Alliance has been established with the aim of providing a constructive solution to the problems associated with the disposal of e-wastes.

According to eWASA representative in the Western Cape, Sussane Dittke, the alliance refurbish e-waste products and sell them to generate income and create employment opportunities for locals. Dittke is optimistic about the growth potential of this project, adding that it has already managed to create 16 jobs.

In addition, the project’s stock value of refurbished equipment is estimated to have a current value in excess of R68 000.

“This stock is made up from products comprising mostly Pentium two and three systems, but with a large volume of peripheral and component items that will be integrated into any machines that require refurbishment,” explained Dittke. 

In August 2008, popular South African musician and e-waste evangelist, Johnny Clegg, said that there is a close connection between the dumping of e-waste and poverty. Speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2008 in Cape Town, Clegg illustrated that several dumping grounds in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, are close to agricultural areas and are affecting drinking water and food production.

Marcelle maintains that the biggest challenge facing the country at the moment is that there is no dedicated legislation to deal with the problem. However, Finlay stressed that the introduction of the new National Environmental Management Waste Bill has direct implications for e-wastes management. He said the bill effectively places the onus on industry to develop an e-waste management system. He also he argued that e-waste offers an important opportunity for job creation and economic development.

- Butjwana Seokoma is the information coordinator at SANGONeT.

- Picture courtesy of e-Waste Association of South Africa

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