By Dr. Moses Amweelo,
ACCORDING to UN statistics, the global community produces a total of 40 million tonnes of e-waste every year – loaded into trucks.The waste constitutes a chain that easily cut across the globe.
Due to rapid product innovations and shorter replacement cycles, especially in ICT (IT Association SA- Industry Waste Management Plan, 2011), e-waste constitutes the fastest growing waste stream, specifically in developing countries, with estimates indicating that volumes could triple over the next five years.
What is electronic waste or e-waste?
E-waste is a term used to cover almost all types of electrical and electronic equipment that have reached their product end of life cycle. It comprises three main categories, namely ICT and office equipment (e.g. desktops, laptops, copy-/fax machines, cell phones, and telephones); consumer electronics (e.g. TV, radio, HiFi’s, speakers) and household appliances (e.g. kettles, irons, vacuum cleaners). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to Electronic Waste as “electronic products that are discarded by consumers.”
Electronic waste is not just waste, it contains some very toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium and brominated flame retardants. When the latter are burned at low temperatures they create additional toxins, such as halogenated dioxins and furans – some of the most toxic substances known to humankind.
The toxic materials in electronics can cause cancer, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption and many other health problems if this waste stream is not properly managed. The pressing question is: What should we do with our electronic discards? The mantra of “reduce, recycle, reuse” applies here.
Reduce your generation of e-waste through smart procurement and good maintenance. Reuse still functioning electronic equipment by donating or selling it to someone who can still use it. Recycle those components that cannot be repaired. To find an organisation that reuses or recycles electronics, search the (Electronic Product Management Directory [EPMD]).
Many countries still handle broken electronic equipment as waste only, while others pro-actively manage their e-waste volumes, to the benefit of their environment and their economy. Nowadays, more precious and semi-precious metals are gained from recycling than from primary production.
Interesting to know, that a tonne of e-waste contains 15 – 20 times as much gold as one tonne of ore. And Namibia now joins the group of innovative countries that turn its e-waste stream into a resource and into an economic opportunity. For Namibia, unfortunately, no qualified data exist on the e-waste volumes and compositions. However, baseline data is available for South Africa (e.g. Alan Finlay; David Liechti, e-waste Assessment South Africa, 2008; 2008; APC Issue Paper, E-waste Challenges 2005) that allows a first approximation of the supply situation in Namibia. Concluding from the RSA data it can be estimated that the Namibia capital Windhoek alone produces approximately 300 tonnes of e-waste every year.
Nationally, the annual e-waste volumes amount to 1 500 – 2 000 tonnes – a volume that fills approximately 600 super link trucks. Up to 70 percent of e-waste is in storage (since individuals and companies / organisations are hesitant to dispose of it), and the majority of it by Government departments and by parastatals.
The active management of e-waste has a double benefit. First and foremost, it helps to effectively safeguard the Namibian environment by minimizing the waste stream. European countries with a well-developed recycling industry recover 95 percent and more of the waste for recycling. In countries with less developed support systems such as South Africa the recycling rate still accounts for 70 percent of original volumes. The responsible disposal of the waste helps to prevent hazardous materials from entering the environment and polluting the ecosystem.
Secondly, and possibly just as important, is that it provides ample economic opportunities (UNESCO, Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Computer Recycling, Vol. 1, 2008). E-waste management serves as a basis for an eco-efficient and labour intensive recycling industry, and provides ample job opportunities. It is estimated that 2 tonnes of e-waste produces one job in the dismantling sector alone, with further opportunities in upstream and downstream collection and processing.
The Windhoek-based Namibian transport and forwarding company, Transworld Cargo Pty Ltd decided in early 2012 to begin to utilise its logistic facilities and expertise to start the recycling of e-waste in Namibia. Transworld Cargo created an e-waste Dismantling and Material Recovery Facility at its premises in Windhoek, and now offers, for the first time in Namibia, an e-waste management solution.
Based on international best practices through business partnerships with South African and European networks and recyclers, Transworld Cargo offers the following services: consolidation of e-waste through a collection service and drop-off facilities at the Transworld Cargo premises (in Windhoek and Walvis Bay); dismantling of e-waste; recycling of recovered material groups through specialised recyclers (due to absence of a Namibian recycling industry); responsible disposal of the non-recyclable components, as well as the certified destruction of equipment and data. This innovative service offering has been accepted by numerous reputable Namibian companies and organisations, and is indicative of the company’s corporate environmental responsibility.
The question is how do we most effectively promote and enhance this initiative of translating waste into a resource. First and foremost, all of us – individuals, businesses, organisations and Government, require a shift in mind set and need to understand that e-waste is a valuable resource and opportunity, rather than a waste problem. From Government’s side specifically, we should support policies that encourage the recycling of e-waste. That, however, might take some time.
As a more immediate and direct support measure, dedicated directives to Government departments could promote the clearing of e-waste stock and the recycling of end-of-life electronic equipment (as opposed to auctioning, since for reasons of good business practice, only equipment in working order should be auctioned).
Close and constructive cooperation between The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and its parastatals, the Parliament through the Parliamentary Standing Committee on ICT and companies like Transworld Cargo could lead to the elaboration of a national action plan on how to exploit e-waste to the maximum. After all, such an initiative would not only help safeguard the environment, improve our national carbon footprint and create local economic opportunities, it would also put Namibia on the forefront of responsible e-waste management in the SADC region and beyond.