Non-Profit Company E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA) is championing e-waste management, infrastructure and networks, and awareness-raising for the country
Electronic waste is a major challenge worldwide and in South Africa it is growing at three times the rate of growth of solid municipal waste(1), with 415 500 tonnes of e-waste produced in the country annually (2019 figures, United Nations Global E-waste Monitor)(2); posing a major environmental, social, and economic issue to the country, as current landfill is exhausted.
In order to address this, new regulations came into law in South Africa in 2021 that apply to the the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment sector – called the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Regulations. This means that all producers of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) are now legally required to participate in an extended producer responsibility scheme, with prescribed targets and penalties for non-compliance.
A local Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) integral in the rollout and uptake of these new regulations and the improved management of electronic waste in the country is E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA) Non-Profit Company (NPC).
SA E-WASTE REGULATIONS A LONG TIME COMING
“With a longer-term view in mind, our mandate at ERA is to act as an execution vehicle to drive the circular economy within the fastest growing waste stream, that in turn has the potential for significant positive impact for South Africans – whether through employment, development, or improving quality of life,” says Ashley du Plooy, former ERA Chairman and now Chief Executive Officer.
Ashley and ERA played a significant role in the development of South Africa’s national Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Regulations, as Chairman of the multi-stakeholder consultative process – during which time fundamental decisions were made around e-waste management funding, such as whether it should be collected via a Government tax, and if the country’s PROs should be PTYs or NPOs.
“This process started in 2014 and in reality it took 7 years to bring to fruition as it involved numerous consultations with government and multi-stakeholders… it is not an easy straightforward matter,” points out du Plooy.
“Electronic waste has a huge environmental impact, especially in the context of Africa, where poverty and existing socio-economic issues has led to people smashing electronic waste on the streets and burning cables to extract valuable components for resale – one only has to look at what’s happened elsewhere on the continent for a horrifying picture of this. It is always the poor who are the most affected by these kinds of issues.”
Defined as any device with an electrical current or battery, electronic waste is the most complex waste to manage and process; due to potentially toxic components used in their production such as lead and mercury, as well as a mix of materials including wires and plastics. From washing machines, kettles, irons, computers, and cellphones, it refers to a broad spectrum of items that people come into contact with and discard on a daily basis – not to mention the significant amount of legacy e-waste from decades of irresponsible dumping already sitting in landfills.
GETTING IT RIGHT FROM THE START
The good news is, the move towards the responsible management of electronic waste opens up a whole new economic stream with major potential for jobs for the country. Taking into consideration the electronic sector’s obligations to now pay levies, estimations for the e-waste industry value could quickly stack up to billions of Rands over time, according to du Plooy: “If you take a longer-term view, what we have here is the making of an economy, with the potential to make a significant positive difference to the lives of millions of South Africans.”
ERA is currently working closely with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment (DFFE) to stimulate jobs in a threefold manner: integrating informal collectors, for which ERA currently has a number of pilot programmes running; actively engaging various service providers and contractors; and the inclusion of Small, Medium and Micro enterprises (SMMEs) outside of the current service provision fold.
“There are many factors that still need to be understood before we can truly scale; appropriate collection and recycling standards, collection fee structures, as well as refining other key metrics.”
However, the process to rollout does not come without its challenges. For example, the main trade opportunities for e-waste up until now was in the local scrap metal market, which is only interested in the highest value materials in electronic waste, typically leading to the mismanagement of the low value – and potentially toxic – materials.
“What we do at ERA is we grapple… grappling with real issues to achieve real connection and solutions. The question of impact is absolutely vital and essential here,” says du Plooy.
“Crucial to this rollout is our partnerships with government, municipalities, local recycling operations, and other key stakeholders, who we engage through a consultative approach.”
The current topline organisational goals for ERA are to increase consumer awareness about the importance of the proper disposal of waste electronics and ramp up the number of e-waste collection points – at retail and wholesale level, and with a focus on neighbourhoods and residential complexes, as well as supporting initiatives that encourage separation at a household level. In addition, ERA is focused on creating the infrastructure for e-waste to be traded, deposited and brought into a controlled system and avoid ending up in landfill – while supporting government priorities in job creation and enterprise creation.
WATCH THIS SPACE
“The policy is now there, but it is vitally important that we get the tracks and the rules in place from the get-go. Our job at ERA is to build the systems and the infrastructure to make these regulations come to life and achieve what they’ve set out to do,” concludes du Plooy.
Visit the website to learn more www.eranpc.co.za, call us on 021 001 2186 or email email@example.com.
- https://www.gov.za/speeches/minister-molewa-leads-national-consultative-conference-electronic-electrical-waste-e-waste / https://www.dffe.gov.za/sites/default/files/parliamentary_updates/pq354of2019managementof_e-waste.pdf