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E-waste a top toxic contributor

Many consumers don't realise that virtually all components in tech goods can be reused or recycled.

The growing appetite for technology has made electrical and electronic waste the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, despite the fact that virtually all its components can be reused. Waste management service Pikitup is now urging South Africans to recycle their tech goods, as growing piles of techno trash are overwhelming landfills.

Pikitup says it collects approximately 1.4 million tonnes of waste around the City of Joburg per year – of which up to 10% consists of e-waste. The incorrect disposal of technology goods poses both environmental and health risks, as hazardous materials like lead and mercury can leach into surrounding areas and contaminate water supplies and soil.

Sending items to landfills instead of recycling them also results in increased carbon emissions, as goods have to be manufactured from scratch using virgin raw materials. According to Sims Recycling, for every tonne of computers recycled, CO2 emissions are reduced by approximately four tonnes. In addition, one tonne of high-grade electronics yields between 100g and 10kg of gold.

“The range of products which fall under the heading of e-waste is virtually unlimited,” notes Pikitup communications manager Pansy Oyedele, adding that most household and office equipment is electrically operated.

According to Oyedele, e-waste accounts for 70% of the overall toxic waste disposed of at landfill sites. ”People generally don't know that much of this e-waste can be recycled. A perfect example is the steel, aluminium and copper, which can be stripped away from old computers, and then reused in newer models.” These processes can also create jobs and develop skills, she adds.

Keith Anderson, chairman of the E-waste Association of SA, notes that the average person will generate an estimated 17kg to 20kg of e-waste in a year. According to ABI Research, 53 million tonnes of e-waste was generated globally in 2009, of which only 13% was recycled.

Anderson adds that, based on the findings of a baseline study conducted in SA in 2008, it's estimated the country generates 228 000 tonnes of e-waste in the ICT and white goods sector alone.

New waste strategy

Up until recently, the country had no clear policy with regards to e-waste. But with the gazetting of the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) earlier this month, there are now set goals around the management of e-waste.

One of the objectives outlined in the NWMS and the Waste Act is to promote the re-use, recycling and recovery of goods and waste materials. “Promoting waste minimisation goes beyond the remit of environmental policy and depends in part on industrial policy and supporting economic instruments,” it adds.

The department said the implementation of the NWMS would require co-ordinated action by many players, including households, businesses, community organisations, NGOs, parastatals and government.

As part of this objective, the department has called for Industry Waste Management Plans (IndWMPs), which will set targets for waste reduction, re-use, recycling and recovery in a given sector. While the tyre, paper and packaging, and lighting industries are already preparing mandatory IndWMPs, one for e-waste and batteries will only be rolled out over the next five years.

Companies, small businesses and consumers who wish to dispose of their e-waste can drop it off at any of the 20 Pikitup garden sites in Johannesburg offering the service, which is free of charge. Visit the Pikitup Web site for more information or find a list of e-waste drop-off sites here.

Related stories:
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E-waste laws alien to SA businesses


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