E-waste is currently one of the smallest waste streams by volume, but is the fastest growing – thus the baby has now grown into a child, and soon will become a fully-fledged adult!
Over the last decades the electronics industry has revolutionized the world and lived up to its expectation as an enabler in society. Electrical and electronic products have become ubiquitous of today’s life around the planet. Without these products, modern life would not be possible. These products serve in such areas as medicine, mobility, education, health, food supply, communication, security, environmental protection and culture. Such appliances include many domestic devices like refrigerators, washing machines, mobile phones, personal computers, printers, toys and TVs.
The amount of appliances put on market every year is increasing. As these products become more pervasive in our everyday lives and coupled with the rapid growth in the world’s population, we need to take action now. It is estimated that the average person will generate between 17 -20 kg of el- waste per year. In 2009, it was estimated that the world generated 53 million tonnes of e-waste of which only 13% was recycled (ABI 2009).
Based upon the findings of a baseline study conducted in South Africa in 2008, it is projected that we conservatively generate in the order of 228 000+ tons of e-waste in the ICT and white goods sectors alone.
India had an installed base of about 5 million PCs in 2006, which is contributing to the 25% compounded annual growth rate in the Indian PC industry. In China, roughly 14 million PCs were sold in 2005, as well as more than 48 million TVs, nearly 20 million refrigerators and 7.5 million air conditioners in 2001, both growth rate and market penetration are increasing year by year, GSM Association estimates that 896 million mobile phone handsets were sold in 2006 worldwide. Currently, the available data on e-waste arising is poor and insufficient and estimation techniques are required for extension of known data to regional-global coverage.
The industry in South Africa has evolved into four tiers as per the table below:
• Tier 1 – Cradle to Cradle Recyclers (WEEE Standards)
• Tier 2 – First line Recyclers
• Tier 3 – Entry level Dismantlers
• Tier 4 – Landfill Scavengers• Tier 1 – Cradle to Cradle Recyclers (WEEE Standards) • Tier 2 – First line Recyclers • Tier 3 – Entry level Dismantlers • Tier 4 – Landfill Scavengers
Currently, none of the e-waste recyclers in South Africa fill the Tier 1 space ie. Recycling all e-waste to WEEE standards. This however is set to change as EWASA has been working with its members to lift the standards of recycling in South Africa. The first CRT Recycling plant was commissioned in February, 2012 and a Cartridge Recycling Facility will follow shortly.
In the creation of an IndWMP the following principles are necessary for inclusion to ensure a balanced take back and recycling system.
Fees should not be applied to finance the creation of unnecessary and inefficient infrastructure to collect end-of-life electronics. All producers must take responsibility for proper end-of-life management of their own electronic products offerings, enabling internalization of the end-of-life costs of a producer’s own brand that can in turn enable the continual review of the eco-design of the products. At the end of an IT product’s useful life, any consumer should be able to return that product to the Producer’s Product Take Back system at no charge by following a process defined by the Producer. The collection system should be primarily managed by its municipalities (district, local or urban) and complemented by Producers Product Take Back programs. Where collection infrastructure is not fully established across the entire country it should be expanded at an appropriate E-waste Take-Back System.
First, levels of e-waste, have been increasing and are expected to continue on this path. Second, e- waste contains materials that are considered toxic, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, which have led to increased environmental concern about improper disposal of these products. Third, there are valuable materials in e-waste and recovery of these materials can alleviate mining of virgin materials. For example, a metric ton of personal computers contains more gold than that recovered from 17 tons of gold ore. Finally, in many cases the costs of recycling e-waste exceed the revenues generated from the recovered materials. This is primarily due to the difficulty of separating highly co-mingled materials in complex products. A fundamental challenge in creating any system is balancing potentially conflicting goals to try and create an optimal system configuration. Ideally, the recyclers should have technology in place that follows a “closed loop” process with the ultimate objective of zero e-waste to landfill or incineration.
A Recycling Fee, also known as a Recovery Fee, whether visible or invisible, is paid by consumers when they buy new equipment.
Recycling costs money. However, the recycling fee should not be used to increase the cost of recycling or increase the profits of the recycler, but rather used as an incentive to recyclers to responsible treat those materials that have no intrinsic value such as CRT monitors. In this way there is less likelihood of those items landing up in landfill. Hence the consumers bear the costs for management of e-waste. A Recycling Fee could be used to raise funds for future treatment of appliances currently being sold. This means that the future recycling costs for each appliance is estimated in advance and paid up-front by the consumer when buying the appliance.
Alternatively, the Recycling Fee represents and is calculated as a share of actual costs of recycling arising WEEE. This means that recycling costs currently arising are shared among appliances being sold. The main difference between the two options is that in the first case the amount paid by the consumer represents an estimation of costs arising in the future, whereas in the second case appliances sold contribute, by means of a fee, to the financing of current recycling costs. In both cases there is no direct financial involvement of producers in the system: end users are bearing end- of-life costs.
Given that e-waste is a societal problem, it demands a societal solution where all stakeholders contribute in line with their positive influence on the solutions side, with more focus on maximizing collection performance and improving treatment quality. Simplistically put, the number of tons of e- waste recycled each year should increase, whilst the cost per ton recycled each year should decrease. This simple logic makes for a sustainable take back scheme.
Thus the emphasis should be first on Reduction of e-waste, followed by Re-use and then lastly by Recycling. Given the very limited data availability o n amounts of e-waste collected and treated through ”official” e-waste system channels, it is clear that the management of significant volumes of e- waste require an clearly defined and transparent management process that is well managed.
Green Economy and Business Opportunities
South Africa has a unique opportunity to create on scale and address the concerns about climate change, through a partnership to promote the green economy and processes to green the economy. The New Growth Plan announced by Government, sets a goal of five million new jobs by 2020. In recycling specifically, there are a number of opportunities for the creation of small enterprises aimed at beneficiating waste a landfill. Waste management provides another source of opportunity in extracting re-usable resources from industrial waste streams.
Principles of an effective structure and plan for collection and treatment of e-waste in South Africa
eWASA was formed in 2008 by founding member, Keith Anderson, as the recognised Industry Body with the aim to find a nonlegislative solution to the problem of e-waste. This has now been developing for three years and culminating in the drafting and publication of an Industry Waste Management Plan (IWMP) which is currently available on the EWASA website for public comment. It is envisaged that the plan will be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in South Africa for approval at the end of March 2012.
Let us all unite and do the right thing – act responsibly!