The lack of proper regulation and enforcement around e-waste collection and recycling practices in South Africa poses a significant threat to the country’s e-waste reduction initiatives.
This is according to Patricia Schröder, spokesperson for Circular Energy, the sector’s official producer responsibility organisation (PRO).
“Legitimate efforts to contain a runaway e-waste problem are being undermined by unscrupulous actors who, for the sake of profit, engage in processing that is hazardous to humans and the environment,” she says.
This makes it critical that the government and industry stakeholders collaborate on legislation and standards that establish ethical industry practices, formal operational controls and strict skills requirements.
A danger to people, planet and prosperity
Unregulated and informal e-waste collection and recycling operations undoubtedly harm the communities in which they take place, the environment itself and the integrity of the e-waste services industry as a whole.
After collecting e-waste from private residences or businesses, some service providers or informal workers may resort to brute-force salvaging instead of correctly disposing of or recycling products. Where they do intend to recycle, their approach is no less neglectful.
“Unfortunately, they are more interested in extracting valuable components for resale or maximising profits through second-rate recycling than health, safety and protecting the environment,” says Schröder.
Unhindered by strict controls, their methods may include open burning of waste or the quick dismantling of appliances that sees unwanted materials discarded recklessly. These practices often result in the release of harmful toxins, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, into the air, soil and water supplies. This contaminates the immediate environment and presents a health hazard to surrounding communities.
In addition, technically sound collection and recycling are inherently slower and more costly due to the application of accepted safety standards and controls. So, informal and unregulated service providers gain an unfair competitive advantage over legitimate operators.
“This not only impacts companies financially who are playing by the rules; it also threatens to replace authentic efforts with a facade of a circular economy that is neither effective nor sustainable,” says Schröder.
Awareness, intervention, ease-of-use
Schröder suggests several immediate solutions to rein in improper practices among unregulated and informal operators.
The first is public awareness. “Formal e-waste management companies need to collaborate to find ways to educate the public on responsible e-waste disposal and recycling, as well as what to look for in a qualified service provider,” she says.
The second is government intervention. “As an industry, we need to make our voices heard before government to ensure the development of adequate legislation that compels all service providers to play on the same level field, applying the same standards and practices,” says Schröder.
The third is to make formal e-waste services easier to use. “Making consumers aware that they can have their e-waste collected from their home or business is not enough. The offering has to be convenient and easy to use,” says Schröder.
A free collection service
To promote this last ideal, Circular Energy is working with authorised vendors to provide a free collection service for households and businesses across South Africa.
“Our goal is to address the issue at a national level so consumers enjoy a consistent experience and are confident their e-waste will be processed correctly by one of our registered member organisations,” says Schröder.
Consumers are urged to make their request on Circular Energy’s official website to have their larger appliances collected from their premises. For smaller e-waste, like batteries, they can use the site to locate a drop-off point nearest to their area.
“This is just one way we are making sure that unregulated and irresponsible e-waste processing is brought under control to everyone’s benefit,” says Schröder.
If you are looking for a convenient way to dispose of your e-waste, Circular Energy offers a free collection service at your home or business, as well as various drop-off points across the country at.
We have also partnered with Woolworths for the disposal of CFL light bulbs and portable batteries.
See the list of selected stores here: https://circular-energy.org/home/woolworths-drop-off-points/