What’s to do with e-waste?

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

The responsible disposal and recycling of large volumes of electrical and electronic waste produced in households when equipment and parts thereof become dysfunctional will benefit the environment and free-up some valuable domestic space.

E-waste contains valuable and hazardous materials, some which can be recovered through recycling, while hazardous fractions thereof can be treated prior to the safe disposal of items. In some cases e-waste are large or cumbersome items and not easily removable for dropping off at central e-waste collection points. These can range from dysfunctional and unwanted equipment including fridges, stoves, microwaves, washing machines, dishwashers, tumble driers, toasters, kettles, computers, printers, fax machines, cell phones, ink and toner cartridges, to light bulbs and batteries.

For this purpose then that the Institute of Waste Management South Africa (IWMSA) in co-operation with a number of organizations dedicated to this cause continues its awareness drive for the responsible disposal and recycling of e-waste. This leads to easing the volumes of e-waste reaching landfills, and increasing the recycling of such products. When disposed of through the available channels some items are renewed for re-use, or parts thereof are manually dissembled and re-built into new items, or simply separated for recycling. The environmental damage and health hazards caused by e-waste ending up in landfills range from toxic substances within these products that come into contact and spread through soil, to pollution of ground and surface water as well as air through smoke from landfills.

The good news is that constructive solutions to the problems associated with e-waste disposal are in place, just as it is with the disposal and recycling of domestic waste products such as glass, plastic, aluminium and paper, in the form of drop-off and collection points. By increasing community awareness of a growing number of facilities available for this purpose including selected branches of Makro, Pick & Pay, Woolworths and WESSA, the minimization of waste for landfills will lead to reduced individual carbon footprints and job creation.

Susanne Dittke, IWMSA Western Cape committee says toxic or hazardous substances in electronic waste are typically found to be heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium, among others. Electronics also contain small amounts of gold, silver, copper, platinum - all precious metals that are in finite supply, along with plastic, lead containing monitor glass and other metals. She says: ”Where possible all e-waste collected from designated drop off points will be re-furbished and repaired if possible (recovery of function), otherwise dismantled for re-use or recycling (recovery of materials), and all items will be handled according to integrated waste management principles, in the most environmentally safe manner.” Through co-operation with organisations such as E-waste Alliance the manual separation of e-waste products are overseen, leading to the effective recycling of all products for the benefit of community and charity organisations.

Detailed information about hazardous e-waste material, designated drop-off facilities nationally and awareness drives are published on a number of websites including that of the Institute of Waste Management SA and E-Waste Association of SA. For contact information and listed branches: www.ewasa.org, www.ecycle.co.za, and www.interwaste.co.za.

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