EWASA tackles e-waste problem

Picture credit: Tehran Times
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IMPENDING, but far from complete EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) legislation is due to be implemented with compulsory registration of affected parties by 04 November this year, and that includes the electronics sector.

More complete details of how the legislation is expected to work and the registration procedures were covered in the April edition of CBN but this article focuses on the electronics sector with input from EWASA CEO, Keith Anderson.

“EWASA has been in existence since in 2008 to manage the establishment of a sustainable environmentally sound e-waste management system for the country.

Since then, the non-profit organisation has been working with manufacturers, vendors and distributors of electronic and electrical goods and e-waste handlers (including refurbishers, dismantlers and recyclers) to manage e-waste effectively.

With support from the Global Knowledge Partnerships in e-Waste Recycling programme, initiated by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and implemented by the Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA), several projects were initiated successfully in three South African provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng) as early as 2004” explained Anderson.

He conservatively estimates that there are between 4 000 – 6 000 producers that need to register and comply with the new legislation. His best guess is that SA imports around 350 000 tons of all types of electronic goods each year, most with a life expectancy of between 3 – 5 years and only between 6 – 12% is currently recycled, the rest ends up in the landfill, and that he said, will be illegal after the November deadline.

“You can see the magnitude of the problem and why the legislation is needed. Another estimate – each person in SA contributes 6 kg of electronic waste to the waste stream, every year, and it’s growing rapidly as smart phones get smarter and more and more devises and appliances incorporate electronic components.

“EPR legislation is present in many countries around the world as it’s a given that the disposal problem is universal, but it is not the silver bullet. Most countries with this legislation have experienced complex problems with its interpretation and implementation, even those who established regulation decades ago are still modifying and updating to meet society’s goals.

“What we can hope for is that the implementing agency, the Department of Forestry and Fisheries &  Environment, (DFFE), don’t try to reinvent the wheel, rather cherry pick the best and most practical tried and tested elements of other countries efforts and modify them to suit our local conditions.

“The issues are complex enough as they stand. For example, small electronic devices – smartphones for example, are pre-packaged in the country of origin, and our legislation requires the amounts of different types of packaging materials to be stated by the local vendor or brand owner in order to comply with regulations. That could mean identifying quantities of cardboard, polystyrene, PVC or low-density polyethylene in each packaged device! We don’t want to be swamped in red tape and I’m sure the experts in the DFFE don’t either.”

On a more practical level, EWASA has identified more than 1 000 collection points around the country where the public can take their defunct electronic devices to be recycled and valuable materials extracted and on-sold to specialist companies. Negotiations are currently underway with municipalities and SALGA (South African Local Government Association) as to the role local government can play in establishing collection points, probably at landfill sites, where SMME’s can be involved in the recycling chain.

Quoting the old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, Anderson foresees a lengthy period of public education to create the necessary awareness not only to ensure the public are responsible and responsive to the legal aspects of safe disposal but also the opportunities that can be created for small and medium enterprises in the recycling chain.

“We are already seeing moves by major retailers to offer e-waste bins where consumers can deposit defunct TV’s phones, computers, large appliances, batteries etc. at selected stores. It may be that these majors will form their own PRO – Producer Responsibility Organisation or join others to minimise the level of administration relating to the paperwork and fees that have to be submitted to the DFFE and Treasury.

“EWASA currently has approximately 200 members across the value chain and is encouraging more to join the association to become aware of the ‘big picture’ through regular newsletters and targeted communications” he concluded.

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