Minister Molewa leads National Consultative Conference on Electronic and Electrical Waste (E-Waste) Management in South Africa

04 September 2015

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, today, 4 September 2015, led a national consultative conference on electronic and electrical waste (e-Waste) management at Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Gauteng.

The conference focused on issues around the contextualisation of the e-Waste challenges in South Africa, the management of e-Waste in Municipalities, e-Waste Recycling and Policy and legislative environment.

e-Waste makes up 5% to 8% of municipal solid waste in South Africa and is growing at a rate three times faster than any other form of waste.

The challenge in the proper management of e-Waste is a result of a lack of recycling infrastructure, inadequate funding, poor legislation, a lack of public awareness and market based instruments.

During her keynote address Minister Molewa reaffirmed the government’s commitment to working with the sector in meeting its challenges.

“We have repeatedly affirmed as I do so again here today, that we see the waste sector in general and the e-waste sector in particular as a catalyst for socio-economic development. It is the source of new businesses and jobs; as well as an important contributor to us attaining our goals of a cleaner, greener South Africa,” said Minister Molewa.

e-Waste is not unique to South Africa; it is a global phenomenon. It is imported and exported around the world for different purposes, sometimes for recycling and sometimes disguised as near end of life second hand goods or donations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for example forecasts that obsolete computers, both in China and in South Africa, will rise by 500% in 2020 compared to their 2007 levels.  Statistics show for instance that developed countries will increase their exports of e-Waste into China and Africa by 50-80%.

Minister Molewa said:  “We as government, as well as all of us here today, know that when compared to conventional municipal waste, certain components of electronic products contain toxic substances that are particularly bad for the environment as well as to human health.”

This is exacerbated by low levels of consumer awareness as well as unregulated disposal, collection and recycling e-Waste processes, amongst others.

“We as government have heeded the warning sounded bythe e-Waste Association of South Africa in 2008 that ‘Africa is becoming a dumping ground for America and Europe under the guise of donations…and if we do not manage our e-Waste, South Africa could find itself and its people in a high risk health and environmental crisis’,” said Minister Molewa.  

The Minister said it is therefore imperative that there is collective engagement on finding ways and means to minimise the impact of e-Waste on the environment and on people.

South Africa has a progressive legislative regime in place in this regard: strengthened by a Constitution that strongly recognizes the principles of environmental protection and justice as a fundamental human right.

Such laws are in the form of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 and the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 among others. The National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 (Act No. 59 of 2008) regulates waste management in the country in order to protect health and the environment by providing reasonable measures for the prevention of pollution and ecological degradation.

The Act came into effect on 1 July 2009, and has since been amended through the National Environmental Management Waste Amendment Act, 2014 (Act No. 26 of 2014) which was assented to on 2 June 2014. It is important to note that the Waste Act provides for measures to deal with both general and hazardous waste and we treat e-waste as hazardous waste in line with the precautionary principle.

Importantly, Part 7 of the Act provides for the development of Industry Waste Management Plans where the waste generated poses a threat to the environment and requires intervention through a collective effort.

The purpose of the Plans is to facilitate the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility where producers take responsibility for the waste generated from their products post-consumer phase. The Plan will ensure that the amount of waste generated is minimised and waste minimisation through waste reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery is realised.

The disposal of waste must be the last option. In South Africa large volumes of e-Waste is still disposed of at landfill sites.

Important to note is that government institutions collectively generate a significant amount of e-waste. This includes national government departments, provincials departments, municipalities and state owned enterprises.

“Every department is managing the e-Waste in silos; there is a need for coordination of efforts to ensure maximum impact. e-Waste management presents an opportunity for job creation and economic development through recycling. Most of the components of e-Waste are recyclable. We therefore need to put systems in place and infrastructure for collection, transportation, sorting and recycling of this waste stream.”

Whilst this may seem to be a huge challenge, there are simultaneously huge economic benefits for citizens of South Africa, opportunities for job creation and poverty alleviation and entrepreneurial opportunities from a well-planned, strategically resourced, well regulated, managed and controlled e-Waste system.

In concluding, the Minister said, “I trust that you will provide meaningful input towards the development of national priorities and targets for e-waste management. This may lead to us as government adopting a National Policy for e-Waste management with particular focus on government and state owned enterprises.” 

 » Read Minister's speech 


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