To help ease the high unemployment levels throughout the continent, organisations need to be innovative and create new commercially viable business opportunities. eWaste has captured the headlines in recent months and is no doubt an attractive proposition for companies to help stimulate economy growth.
At the recent national consultative conference on electronic and electrical waste (eWaste) management, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa reaffirmed Government’s commitment to working with the waste sector in meeting its challenges.
The conference focused on issues around the contextualisation of the eWaste challenges in South Africa, the management of eWaste in Municipalities, eWaste Recycling and Policy and legislative environment. eWaste makes up 5 - 8 percent of municipal solid waste in South Africa and is growing at a rate three times faster than any other form of waste.
Xperien CEO Wale Arewa says the challenge in the proper management of eWaste is a result of a lack of recycling infrastructure, poor legislation and inadequate funding. “The eWaste sector is a catalyst for socio-economic development, it is the source of new businesses and jobs."
"As part of the overall concern for the environment, the Department of Environmental Affairs has already seen many new job opportunities created in other areas of recycling such as tyres and plastic packaging. Neither of these, however, have the same challenges as those faced by eWaste," says Arewa.
He says the range of products to be recycled, the diversity of their contents and recoverable components and materials, provide significant challenges and present hazards that need careful management.
Company executives need to consider regulatory compliance, cost and more importantly, the protection of company information. eWaste disposal challenges facing companies in today’s environment include legislative requirements, compliance to Protection of Personal Information Act 2013 (PoPI 2013), the National Environmental Waste Management Act 2008 (NEMWA 2008) and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA).
Echoing a warning by the e-Waste Association of South Africa, Arewa says Africa is becoming a dumping ground for America and Europe under the guise of donations. "If we do not manage our eWaste, South Africa could find itself and its people in a high risk health and environmental crisis.”
This is aggravated by low levels of consumer awareness as well as unregulated disposal, collection and recycling eWaste processes, amongst others. Research shows that unrestricted use of the informal sector to handle eWaste can create more problems than it solves. Metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic are all present in eWaste. For those workers who spend endless days exposed to dangerous levels of toxic elements with little to no protection, while breaking down electronics by hand, are at huge risk.
"eWaste contains a number of hazardous materials, which if not handled correctly, present huge risks to those who process eWaste as well. That's why we believe any initiative to boost employment in the field of eWaste needs careful consideration. There is certainly an increase in eWaste disposal compliance awareness, customers realise this importance of choosing the correct partner for eWaste disposal," he adds.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for example forecasts that obsolete computers, both in China and in South Africa, will rise by 500% in 2020 compared to their 2007 levels. Statistics show for instance that developed countries will increase their exports of eWaste into China and Africa by 50-80%.
"The World Bank is one of many international institutions that fully appreciate the importance of evaluating the impact of any initiative," says Dr Peter Tobin of IACT-Africa, one of the companies helping Xperien explore the implications of the opportunities and threats presented by eWaste.