Gauteng to launch new recycling system to deal with growing e-waste problem

Gauteng wants to launch an e-waste management system to create a safer environment and support job creation.

  • The Gauteng province and the University of Johannesburg will introduce a new system to manage electronic waste.
  • The province accounts for more than half of the country’s e-waste, such as cellphones and home appliances.
  • E-waste contains chemicals that can harm the environment.

The Gauteng province, in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg (UJ), will on Tuesday launch a new system to manage electronic waste – such as cellphones, home appliances and computers.

The province accounts for more than half (55%) of the country’s e-waste, around 360,000 tons per year.

According to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, the world produced 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019.

Less than a fifth (17.4%) of e-waste was collected for recycling. Minerals used in these electronics, such as gold, silver, copper and platinum – valued at $57 billion – were discarded.

Global e-waste is expected to grow to 74 million metric tons by 2030 as people continue to purchase more electronics, according to the E-waste Monitor.

E-waste contains chemicals that can harm the environment, the World Economic Forum highlighted in a blog.

Gauteng’s e-waste management system aims to improve the collection, recycling, and safe electronic waste disposal, UJ said in a statement. It also acknowledged that e-waste could have harmful effects on human lives and the environment.

“Apart from helping in educating Gauteng residents on issues of e-waste, the project will also establish a culture of recycling electronics,” the statement read.

Gauteng MEC of e-Government Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko said that apart from addressing environmental concerns, the e-waste management system could present an opportunity for job creation.

“The e-waste management system will also assist in inspiring creativity amongst the youth, to be able to recycle and create something meaningful from discarded gadgets. This will further assist in stimulating the economy through SMME support and job creation.”

Mountain tops of waste

Professor Saurabh Sinha, deputy vice-chancellor for research and internationalization at UJ, noted that South Africa and the continent have “massive mountaintops of unused electronic devices”. This is mainly in the form of computers and electrical and electronic waste.

Wale Arewa, CEO of IT asset disposal service provider Xperien, noted that the growing demand for new electronic devices contributes to e-waste. He highlighted that refurbished products could be used in call centres, schools, learning centres, and corporate social investment programmes.

“Always ensure that the lifespan and functionality of IT equipment is optimized for effective service – many years beyond its original intention – before being considered for recycling,” said Arewa. “This will ensure that our planet’s resources are not squandered by consumerism and apathetic use,” he added.

Kate Stubbs, marketing director at waste management company Interwaste, said consumers have a “throw-away” mindset. “As new products are created, we create more waste.” Stubbs also noted that waste is directly correlated with a growing population and urbanization.

However, South Africa’s legislation aims to divert waste from landfills by encouraging a circular economy – which seeks to reduce waste in favor of reuse and recycling. The circular economy essentially aims to avoid waste creation at all times, Stubbs said.

Land disposal should be the last option to consider, she added.

The National Environmental Management legislation’s Waste Act recently introduced new rules and responsibilities for producers – known as Extended Producer Responsibility. Producers of any type of product or package need to include more recyclable materials, Business Insider previously reported.

It is the responsibility of manufacturers and producers of paper packaging and some electronics to consider how to reduce waste in production and packaging and incorporate reused materials, Stubbs said.

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