e-Waste Assessment South Africa

Title e-Waste assessment South Africa
Publication Type Report
Year of Publication 2008
Authors Finlay A, Liechti D
Prepared for e-Waste Association of South Africa
Pages 73
Institution Open research, Empa
City Johannesburg / South Africa
Abstract This assessment considers three primary e-waste streams: white goods, consumer electronics, and information technology (IT). By focusing on several tracer products in these categories – namely, fridges, washing machines, microwaves, TVs, PCs, printers, and mobile phones – it outlines the current e-waste situation in South Africa. It also briefly considers the status of fluorescent discharge lamps, and rechargeable batteries used in electronic products.

It suggests that white goods are likely to become a major feature of e-waste volumes in the future – even surpassing IT as a tonnage percentage of the waste stream. For example, it is likely that microwaves will rival printers in the number of units entering the waste stream in the next five years. But despite e-waste initiatives elsewhere in the world, white goods vendors have so far not actively engaged in attempts to develop an industry-led e-waste solution in the country.

The assessment estimates that white goods, consumer electronics and IT in South African homes amount to anything between one million and two million tons, most of which is likely to enter the waste stream in the next 5-10 years. While the storage of e-waste in institutions such as government departments and universities is reported to be high, the domestic storage of e-waste is also substantial – the amount of e-waste in storage in 358 middle-class households that participated in a survey conducted as part of this study could be packed into two-thirds of a 20-foot shipping container.

South Africa faces a number of recycling challenges when it comes to e-waste. These include dealing with hazardous fraction, such as Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) glass, and finding markets for flame-retardant plastics. Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitors are also likely to present a key challenge in the future, while the technology does not currently exist in the country for the environmentally friendly recycling of rechargeable batteries used in electronics and fridges.

At the same time, basic environmental precautions are absent at some recyclers, and health and safety regulations are loosely enforced. Most refurbishers and recyclers interviewed for this assessment were not ISO compliant.
While the cost of logistics (i.e. transport) is a major cost challenge faced by recyclers, preventing the fluid flow of waste volumes in the country and in the region, grassroots e-waste projects currently piloted demonstrate that at least a minimum wage is possible through the manual dismantling of discarded technology.

The assessment suggests that more new PCs are sold into the market each year than are recycled, which illustrates the opportunity for job creation and economic development presented by e-waste.

Finally, it shows that informal e-waste recycling includes mostly the early stages of recycling – collection, crude dismantling and sorting. Informal recyclers are vulnerable, often deal with e-waste in a hazardous way, and are open to exploitation. Amongst other things, the assessment recommends the scaling up of public awareness campaigns that spell out the hazards of e-waste, the active engagement of all stakeholders in the current drive by eWASA to establish an e-waste management system, the support of small business start-ups and informal recyclers, and support for the investment in new recycling technology through incentives.

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