The province accounts for more than half (55%) of the country’s e-waste, around 360,000 tonnes per year. According to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, the world produced 53.6 million metric tonnes 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. According to E-waste Monitor, global e-waste is expected to grow to 74 million metric tonnes by 2030 as people continue to purchase more electronics. 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 disposal of electronic waste, a UJ spokesperson said in a statement. It was 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 instil 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.”
Professor Saurabh Sinha, deputy vice-chancellor for research and internationalisation 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 optimised 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 urbanisation. However, South Africa’s legislation aims to divert waste from landfills by encouraging a circular economy which seeks to reduce waste in favour 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. 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 concluded.