Minister Edna Molewa’s address at Government Sector National E-Waste conference

Birchwood Conference Centre, Boksburg, Gauteng Province
04 September 2015


Programme Director;
Executive Mayors;
Members of Mayoral Committees (MMCs);
Officials from national, provincial departments and local government;
Officials from Public Entities;
Civil society;
Industry representatives;
Members of the media;
Distinguished guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen

Minister Edna Molewa speaking at the E-Waste Conference.

It is a great honour for me to be part of this Government Sector National e-Waste conference. Over the next few days you will be looking at new ways to address the challenge posed by the safe reduction, reuse and recycling of electronic waste.

I am sure those of you here with children, especially teenagers, will agree that the evolution of technology is taking place at such a rapid pace that it can be hard to keep up.

No sooner do we become accustomed to the use of one form of technology when another is introduced to replace it. This evolution cuts across society, as ordinary homes, businesses, governments and countries seek to harness the power of this quiet revolution.

As society develops and technology innovation continues apace, we have had to seriously reflect on how to manage the waste generated from these technologies. I am proud to say that the sector has shown time and again that it is up to the task of its own technological innovation.

I am here today to reaffirm 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 catalysts 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.

As the sector continues to play its part, so we too as government will play ours.

I must acknowledge the cooperation and partnership that we have with the Department of Public Service and Administration on this initiative. We are working together as they hold the mandate for public service regulation.

Let me take this opportunity to thank acting Minister of Public Service and Administration, Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the Deputy Minister Ayanda Dlodlo in absentia, for the cooperation thus far and add that we look forward to a coordinated approach in dealing with e-Waste in government. Working together with our partners in the waste sector, we are indeed Moving South Africa Forward!

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% by 2020 compared to their 2007 levels. 

What makes developing countries such as ours unique in this regard though is that we aren’t only faced with the challenge of managing our domestically-generated e-Waste. We also have to deal with the e-waste from developing countries.

The rapid growth in information technology and telecommunications in developing countries has led to an improvement in the capacity of computers - but simultaneously to a decrease in the lifetime of products. The net effect of the increase in electronic connectivity and capacity has been growing stockpiles of obsolete e-Waste and the dangerous disposal thereof.

Statistics show for instance that developed countries will increase their exports of e-Waste into China and Africa by 50-80%.

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 harmful to the environment and human health.

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

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”. 

Furthermore, there is increasing evidence to suggest that companies from the developed countries are taking advantage of the absence or lax enforcement of environmental laws in some of these developing countries to dump e-Waste, leaving a trail of environmental destruction.

It is therefore imperative that collectively, we engage on ways and means to determine what we can do to minimise the impact of e-Waste on the environment and on our people.

Unlike many other developing countries, this government led by the African National Congress (ANC) has a progressive legislative regime in place in this regard: strengthened by a Constitution that strongly recognises the principles of environmental protection and justice as a fundamental human right.

These laws include the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 and the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008. (NEM:WA)

NEM:WA 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), 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.  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 in the post-consumer phase. The Plan will ensure that the amount of waste generated is minimised through waste reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery.  

The disposal of waste must be the last option. In this country currently, we still have large volumes of e-Waste that is disposed at landfill sites.

In this regard, on 24 July 2015 we published a draft Notice for comment calling on industries that generate the three prioritised waste streams to develop and submit a Plan for my consideration and approval. The Notice is currently at the public participation stage. The sectors that I have called are Paper and Packaging, Lighting and E-waste.

These Plans are expected to align with the National Pricing Strategy for Waste Management contemplated in the Waste Amendment Act of 2014.

It is 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 its e-Waste in silos; there is a need for the co-ordination of efforts to ensure maximum impact.

Because e-Waste management presents an opportunity for job creation and economic development through recycling, systems need to be put in place and infrastructure developed for the collection, transportation, sorting and recycling of this waste stream.

As a Department and, in as much as we engage with the electronics and information technology sectors to develop plans to address e-Waste, we need to acknowledge that government itself has not addressed what to do with its own accumulated stockpiles of IT waste scattered across the country. This is mainly due to the lack of a coordinated approach and a lack of a National Policy on e-Waste.

The level of public awareness on the potential negative impacts of the rapidly increasing stockpiling of computers, monitors and televisions is also very low. When these products are placed in landfills or incinerated, they pose health risks due to the hazardous materials they contain. As more e-Waste is placed in landfills, exposure to environmental toxins is likely to increase, resulting in elevated risks of cancer and developmental and neurological disorders.

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.

At the Waste Summit we held in White River early this year, I mentioned a need for accelerated waste management interventions, declaring a war on waste. We have to declare war on e-waste. The country needs to come up with technologies to deal with this waste but also to maximise on the economic spin-offs that are entrenched in waste.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, today we have called all of you to come and converse with us on the challenges and opportunities in e-Waste management. I am pleased to see that you came in numbers to support this initiative. This shows the level of interest that exists.

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.

The Department of Environment Affairs has commenced the process of consultation, research, and community and industry engagement to develop an accurate understanding of the conditions that exist and to compare these with the experiences of both our developed and developing nation partners so as to formulate a baseline assessment of the nature and extent of the e-Waste challenge in South Africa.

The DEA together with the DPSA has, therefore, commissioned a research study culminating in a consultative conference targeting Municipalities as a starting point to seek solutions that will contribute towards an effective and efficient e-Waste strategy in South Africa.

Whilst the Department believes that e-Waste is a cross-sectoral concern, are remain committed to leading the development of an effective and efficient e-Waste management system in South Africa.

Ladies and Gentlemen we all know that e-Waste will have a devastating impact on the environment and human health for centuries to come if the legislative and regulatory framework for e-Waste management is not enforced.

It necessitates that we come up with new and innovative means to address this challenge. For instance, to date global, regional and national regulatory responses have focused on banning trans-boundary shipments of e-Waste. In many respects these responses have been weakly enforced, and have been largely ineffective in both the sending and receiving countries.

Alternative solutions should include recycling technology transfer and increased manufacturer responsibility.

Industry, the sector and government must work in concert to come up with these innovative methods and solutions. Waste management is key to promoting this country’s economic growth and social development, for the benefit of the environment and for the sake of the health of all South Africans.

Let me take this opportunity to thank you all for honouring and participating in this one day conference and I wish you very fruitful engagements in the breakaway commissions.

And most importantly, I look forward to your recommendations as experts in this field.

I thank you.