Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Informal Recyclers: The lure of electronics: Part 2

Simon Baloyi, Manager, Hatherly Landfill
The road leading to the Hatherly landfill is littered with plastic, garden residues, broken glasses and other scrap materials, some which have been trampled by passing trucks. Mounds and mounds of dirt and dust add to the atmosphere.

Seven old dishwashers stand in one corner, the end of their life cycles clearly visible  with corroded metals jutting from their ends. Large leather suitcases also line up on the side of the road and freshly trampled pieces of tube lights welcome visitors to the largest landfill of Pretoria.

Scrap in Hatherly landfill, Pretoria
Simon Baloyi, 54, manager of the Hatherly landfill says: “Theft of electronic goods are very common here. All kind of trash is supposed to end up here, instead some people, stop
the trucks while entering and steal the scrap, mostly electronic equipments."

Unregistered informal recyclers who indulge in these thefts mostly target electronic goods. Refrigerators, electronic weighing scales, alarm clocks and printer cartridges are the most sought after goods. Weighing scales seem to be the favorite as they are deemed instant cash. E-waste or e-trash has increased at a rapid pace in the past five years but their recycling rates have not.

Alex Wasangarai, an informal recycler and the deputy manager at the landfill, specializes in e-waste recycling. According to him, the recyclers often overlook electronics. In fact the largest recycler to buy scrap from Hatherly, ‘Remade’ does not deal with electronic scrap. The municipality, which is responsible for teaching these recyclers on ways to handle trash, started teaching methods to handle e-trash only since 2011.

Baloyi complains that the methods to handle e-waste that they were taught in the earlier phase remain the same without any change. However, electronic equipments have undergone sea change.
Piles of electronic trash
He has two teams that look into cases of illegal fires and robbery of electronic trash. According to Baloyi, illegal fires and theft are the two biggest problems being faced by the Hatherly landfill. 

Regarding theft Wasangarai observes: “Theft has been on an increase over the past three years. Most unregistered recyclers are not even recyclers in the first place. They are often unemployed young men from Lusaka (a nearby township that border the landfill). The electronics that they scavenge here are sold in small shops in the town.”

The surveillance teams are made up of senior
recyclers like Wasangarai who have been working on the landfill for some years. The teams take turn each morning to come, inspect cases of illegal fires, if any, and keep an eye out for unregistered recyclers who often stop by the landfill to make a quick buck.

Site of an illegal fire being burnt
Regarding illegal fires, Baloyi explains: “All landfills have a high amount of methane in the soil. This methane has been built over years and years of land filling. There are designated spots where methane content is low so when fires take place the embers do not reach the methane level in the soil. Illegal fires that are left burning at undesignated areas have the ability to spread to places where the methane content is high. These fires can blow up the entire landfill if they are not put out in time.”

E-trash or e-waste has become a potential problem for recyclers at Hatherly. While large companies specializing in e-waste like DESCO or Africa E-waste buy most e-waste from informal recyclers, there is also a large grey market for the goods. Also electronics that end up in Hatherly is often separated into plastic, glass, metals like copper, platinum and sometimes even gold by the informal recyclers working on the landfill.

Most formal recyclers like to buy whole appliances from the informal recyclers; however, recyclers like Wasangarai feel that more money can be made if the electronic appliance is broken down into parts and then sold. This gulf between the informal and formal recyclers often creates a gap and the electronic appliance is made redundant.

Ulze Van Dyk, Director of Africa E-waste says that often when informal recyclers bring appliances, there is nothing left but the outer shell of the appliance which is hardly of any value to the recycler. It is then re-sent to other landfills.

Baloyi feels that the municipality should take up some responsibility towards electronic trash that has been growing in recent years. Instead, the municipality often urges recyclers at Hatherly to take home electronics goods if found in good condition.

The pipe through which methane gas can come out in case of fire
Wasangarai recalls that two years ago, Hatherly received 12 plasma television, all in brand new condition. They had absolutely no idea how to deal with the package and ended up taking them home. Baloyi and Wasagarai both still have them at their house and working in perfect condition.

E-waste in South Africa currently is not considered a ‘priority waste’ and hence their primary collection for recycling is left to the informal recyclers working in landfills. As the amount of electronic trash grows in landfills every day, cases of illegal fires and theft of electronics also increase.

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