Despite the fact that approximately 95% of e-waste can be recycled, recovered or treated and beneficiated, e-recycling is not high on South African’s agenda.
This according to Patricia Schröder, Vice-Chair of the Central branch of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA).
International e-Waste Day takes place on 14 October and this year’s focus is the role of consumers in improving rates of re-use and recycling.
“Local recycling rates are very low and it’s a major problem,” Schröder warns. “For example, only between 2 and 2.5% of waste lighting, and between 10 and 12% of other waste electrical and electronic equipment is recycled.”
The most common forms of e-waste include small domestic appliances, household portable batteries, lighting, and IT and communication equipment and consumables, such as printer cartridges.
“Big manufacturers were not obligated to play their part voluntarily,” says Schröder. “But in May this year, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations were published. It makes the manufactures and producers responsible for the end of life management of their products.”
The new regulations will be implementable from 5 November 2021. According to Schröder, this will be a starting point to see how effective these regulations will be to improve collection and recycling rates.
“Producers must sign up by before 4 November 2021 to one of the various existing industry Producer Responsibility Organisations (PRO’s) to become compliant and take responsibility for their products’ end-of-life management. This will also drive consumer awareness, environmental improvement, innovation, job and skills creation among many other benefits.”
She adds that the IWMSA can assist companies with information on becoming compliant with the EPR regulations
How to manage corporate and individual e-waste
If each individual and business plays their part, it can make a big difference.
“Avoid impulse buying of electronic products,” Schröder advises. “Ask yourself: Do I really need this item?
“Buy items that are recyclable and check the labelling. Repair and re-use all items to extend the lifespan of the product. At the end of the lifespan or when the product is not required any longer, ensure that you drop off your e-waste at collection sites where available; or find a Department of Environmental Affairs-legally compliant, licensed recycling facility for environmentally sound management.”
Businesses should also insist on compliance documentation for traceability and auditing purposes. “If these services are contracted out, ensure that your contractors are following the correct chain of custody for compliance.”
She warns buyers mustn’t be tempted by illicit unlicensed traders or companies that pay a small fee for the items and claim to recycle them.
“All they do is pick out the valuable fractions with negative environmental impacts to sell to the highest bidder - like scrap dealers or illegal or unethical e-waste dealers - and the balance is then illegally discarded with general waste,” she explains.
“And don’t support organisations that charge you to “smash” your e-waste in a room to vent your frustrations. Not only is this practice a health, safety and environmental risk, but these smashed items are usually illegally discarded,” Schröder concludes.
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