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A review of South African environmental and general legislation governing e-waste

TitleA review of South African environmental and general legislation governing e-waste
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsDittke M
Pages42
Institutione-Waste Association of South Africa
CityCape Town, South Africa
AbstractUnlike many other countries, South Africa currently does not have any dedicated legislation dealing with e-waste. As such a whole range of environmental, as well as health and safety, laws must be examined to provide answers. Such investigation will have to cover national, provincial and local legislation. Needless to say, this is an arduous and unsatisfactory situation, and certainly does not help to clarify matters.This does not imply that South Africa has no legislation covering hazardous substances or waste, or the management and disposal thereof. Answers are certainly found in laws governing topics like the environment, water, air, waste, hazardous substances as well as health and safety. Each of these, however, examines the issue from a different perspective, thereby confusing the problem. A further difficulty is the fact that these laws are enforced by different government departments, alternatively levels of government, so that there is no uniform approach in dealing with e-waste or for that matter hazardous waste in general.Since waste and the management thereof is a function delegated to local authorities by-laws differ from one municipality to the other. While this, in practical terms, does not affect e-waste management per se, some by-laws theoretically would allow greater control over same. Here too, e-waste would merely fall under the broad definition of hazardous waste, and as such requiring disposal or treatment. During the review of by-laws from the five municipalities it was also found that some have a potentially negative impact on recycling or collection activities insofar as hazardous waste, storage, collection and transport are concerned. While it is debatable to what extent e-waste should be treated in the same manner as other hazardous waste in terms of collection, storage and transport, it nonetheless poses a possible difficulty for e-waste recyclers.The only exception where a definite answer may be found is under air pollution legislation as this imposes fairly uniform requirements; this would be relevant for smelters processing e-waste.National and provincial government only oversee the waste management functions of local authorities in terms of their constitutional duties, but without becoming actively involved. In addition, there often is a rivalry and lack of cooperation between these two; this is since both share the constitutional power over pollution control (Schedule 4 Part A).In terms of awareness and involvement by authorities, industry as a whole (and not only certain members of the IT industry) and the public the situation is still far from being as satisfactory as, forinstance, in the EU or Switzerland. These two have detailed legislation covering e-waste, and more importantly extended producer responsibility and legally required return systems.This review also briefly examined legislation governing precious metals and second-hand goods as this is relevant for e-waste. Both are currently the subject of pending amendments, which if passed, will introduce new legislation.The same holds true for the Draft Waste Management Bill, which although having several flaws and weaknesses, nonetheless promises potentially far reaching consequences for waste management, waste generators and product manufacturers or suppliers.The absence of clear e-waste legislation or policies on all three levels of government is therefore seen as a definite obstacle in confronting the problem in a comprehensive and broad manner. Until such time as these are implemented the management of e-waste will continue to remain a voluntary initiative by certain organisations, NGOs or individuals.
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