South Africans ‘Waste’ Opportunities to e-Recycle

by | Green Living, Print Articles, Summer 2021

Despite the fact that approximately 95 per cent of e-waste can be recycled, recovered or treated and beneficiated, e-recycling is not high on South Africans’ agenda. This according to Patricia Schröder, vice-chair of the central branch of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA).

 “Local recycling rates are very low and it’s a major problem,” Ms Schröder warns. “For example, only between two and 2.5 per cent of waste lighting, and between 10 and 12 per cent 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 Ms Schröder. “But in May this year, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations were published. It makes the manufacturers and producers responsible for the end of life management of their products.”

The new regulations were being implemented from 5.11.2021. According to Ms Schröder, this will be a starting point to see how effective these regulations will be to improve collection and recycling rates. 

“Producers were required to sign up by before 4.11.2021 to one of the various existing industry Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) to become compliant and take responsibility for their products’ end-of-life management. This will also drive consumer awareness, environmental improvement, innovation and 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,” Ms 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. These items are usually illegally discarded,” Ms Schröder concludes.

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