Africa needs to create a common set of standards for e-waste disposal, says eWASA chairman, Keith Anderson.
E-waste legislation could receive an overhaul, following the drafting of conditions to provide greater control over the importing and exporting of electronic goods in the country.
Spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Albi Modise says the importing of used or second-hand electronic goods into SA for various reasons has become a major challenge.
According to Modise, one of the tools in the National Environmental Waste Management Act is “extended producer responsibility”, meaning the producers of a certain product will be held responsible for the whole life cycle of that product. “This includes the recycling, treatment or disposal of the waste that resulted from that product,” says Modise.
“In most cases, the application of producer responsibility, as well as duty of care principles, is impossible. Therefore, when these goods reach their end-of-life, they become e-waste, which could also contribute to the volume of e-waste stockpiles already in the country.”
He says the DEA is working with the International Trade Administration Commission of the Department of Trade and Industry to draft conditions to be included in export/import permits, to control the import of electronic commodities.
“In the long-term, the DEA will develop an import/export policy for chemicals and wastes, and this would take into consideration emerging issues such as trade with recyclable wastes, e-waste, ozone-depleting substances and goods imported as donations,” adds Modise. “This policy will also help the country in various measures to tighten up control over illegal import and export.”
Keith Anderson, chairman of the e-Waste Association of SA (eWASA), says the dumping of international e-waste in African countries is reaching “epidemic proportions”. He notes that eWASA is working with Europe's industry body, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum, to create an African agreement similar to the one signed by European countries to all follow the same procedure for disposing of e-waste.
“We want to implement a similar forum for the African continent, so that from Cape to Cairo, all countries in Africa follow the same standard.” This would involve the governments in each country setting up a secretariat, to establish a set of uniform standards and procedures, explains Anderson.
According to Modise, e-waste is gradually becoming a major worry for SA. “The rate of development of the country and rapid changes in technology could potentially lead to a growing problem of stockpiles of electronic waste.”
He points out there are no known licensed facilities in the country that can manage electronic waste in an environmentally-responsible way. “This sometimes leads to the random disposal of these electronics once they reach their end of life.”
While e-waste is still a minor offender when compared to other waste streams in the country, notes Anderson, it is the fastest growing.
He says there are plans to create an industry recycling body in coming months, which will cover all forms of solid waste, from plastics to electronic and electrical goods to tyres. This body will then report to government on issues in various industry waste categories.
“There's also been a lot of focus on the clarification and definition of second-hand goods and their recycling,” notes Anderson. He adds that major industries have been asked to submit plans on how to minimise waste streams, and are busy formulating guidelines.
After consulting stakeholders on various strategic issues late last year, the DEA amended the framework for developing the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS), to help implement the objectives of the Waste Act, which came into effect in July 2009.
According to the department, the first draft of the NWMS will be released for stakeholder comment and consultation early this year. The final publishing of the NWMS is scheduled for early June.
The departmental Web site notes that an estimated 12.5 million to 15 million computers are in use in SA, with a life cycle of seven years. It adds there are only a few South African recycling companies that process this waste, which amounts to more than 4 000 tons per year.
Anderson says eWASA plans to announce an industry-wide initiative in the next few weeks for all generators of e-waste to take products to accredited collection points, from where approved recyclers will treat or dispose of the waste. Anderson says it is finalising the project, with plans to introduce it nationwide for consumers and the IT industry in February.
“The biggest challenge in SA is that there is not one local recycler who meets European standards,” says Anderson. “A lot of it is exported, which is problematic because it merely shifts the problem somewhere else,” he explains.
The DEA defines e-waste as discarded electronic products including consumer items such as computers, cellphones, televisions, and audio equipment, as well as commercial apparatus such as medical, technical, and scientific equipment. It points out that, while many of the constituent materials can be re-used, refurbished, or recycled, e-waste recycling is neither widespread nor well-known, and is specialised and labour-intensive.
According to Anderson, eWASA is working with groups like the IDC to put up plants that can treat e-waste.
This includes plans for a model site in Gauteng, which would be capable of handling any form of electrical or electronic waste.
He also hopes for greater collaboration from individual companies, to help create all-inclusive industry standards locally. “Our biggest desire is that all importers, the HPs, Microsofts, Dells, Fujitsus and so on, come onboard, join the association, and abide by its code of conduct.”