Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Why the concern for electronic waste?

Environmental activist Jim Puckett once wrote:

"Wherever we live, we must realize that when we sweep things out of our lives and throw them away, they do not disappear, as we might like to believe. We must know that 'away' is in fact a place likely to be somewhere where people are impoverished, powerless and too desperate to be able to resist the poison for the realities of poverty. 'Away' is likely to be a place where people and environment will suffer from our carelessness, our ignorance and our indifference."

As our lives become more and more dependent on electrical appliances, the waste generated from them also increases. In fact if one thinks far back, do we know or remember where our first generation mobile phones ended up?

Agbogbolshie dump site, Accra, Ghana
In our race to become electronically savvy, we have forgotten that our discarded electronic or electrical appliances end up somewhere... this somewhere is mostly large landfills or dump sites in developing or underdeveloped economies, where the proper technical know-how to recycle these waste barely exists.

South Africa too suffers from such a situation. The country generates about 40 million tonnes of electronic waste each year. About 60 per cent of heavy metals found in landfills comes from electronic waste and e-waste has become the largest waste stream in the country since the beginning of the new millennium.

Electronic scrap at Hatherly landfill in
Pretoria East
Among international treaties and conventions dealing with waste management and recycling, South Africa boasts of being a signatory to all three international UN conventions; the Basel, the Rotterdam and the Stockholm. In spite or despite of being a signatory to all UN international treaties and conventions dealing with waste management, its own management of electronic waste is rather shrouded in mystery.

There is hardly any accurate data on how much electronic waste is generated or how much of it is being recycled. Also the country suffers from a lack of legislation dealing specifically with electronic waste.

This blog is thus an attempt to find out what the current situation of electronic waste is in South Africa and where we are headed in the future.

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