Electronic waste, e-waste, refers to electronic devices which have reached the end of their life cycle. They might be broken, outdated or otherwise no longer useful and therefore discharged. This waste can cause serious damage to the environment if not treated in an appropriate way.
In Paarl there is a social enterprise called ECYCLE, who offers a way to safely recycle any used technology. Entrepreneur Florian Schiller makes electronic waste recycling easy for you and I with old electronics we want to discard of responsibly. At the Head Office in Paarl, he manages the dismantling plant where all used materials get sorted and stripped for recycling and reuse.
“Many people do not realise how dangerous e-waste is, both to themselves and the environment,” Schiller shares. He has seen a gap in our waste management system in South Africa and is attempting to step into it with a sustainable solution.
Electronic devises consist of many mixed materials. Many metals found in modern electronics contain heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium. Hazardous chemicals are also frequently used, such as brominated flame retardants painted over printers and photo copy machines. Polluting PVC plastic is also frequently used.
These toxic materials present both a health and an environmental risk. There is a health and safety risk involved with people producing and disposing of e-waste. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to lead and mercury, as even low levels of exposure to these toxins is harmful in development stages of growth.
Schiller emphasises how important it is to dispose of your electronic waste correctly. In his dismantling workshop there are two facilities. The one is for recovery, where old laptops and monitors are repaired and resold. The other is for recycling, where materials are stripped into their simplest form and separated for recycling.
ECYCLE ensures a safe working environment for employees manning the recycle section. Health and safety is the top priority and necessary precautions have been taken such as wearing goggles and gloves.
“Many informal ‘recyclers’ do not take safety into consideration. They load TV’s or computers onto the back of a bakkie and take it to their backyard. There they bash the televisions in with stones to retrieve the copper which they sell for money.” Once electronic equipment is smashed open, the rest of the debris is left shattered on the ground. People dig around in hazardous dumps and landfills, scouring for materials they can scavenge at the expense of their own health and the environment.
The process of recovery at ECYCLE is work intensive with little reward. Schiller (below) says he does not charge for recycling a person’s electronic waste. His facility is used by individuals and by larger corporations who undergo a mass-upgrade and need to get rid of old equipment in a safe way.
He also makes it easy. There are 3 easy methods to dispose of your e-waste:
- Dispose at drop off points (http://www.ecycle.co.za/drop%20off%20points.htm)
- Take it to dismantling facility in Paarl (http://www.ecycle.co.za/contact.htm)
- Have your e-waste collected (only if a viable amount)
Schiller explains the process of recycling electronics. After collection/deposition, the e-waste gets weighed and sorted into reusables and recyclables. Reusables go to the front desk, where they are repaired and sold as second-hand equipment. These mostly consist of computer monitors. Recyclables are screened into further categories:
- Printers and copy machines (consisting mostly of plastic)
- Computer servers (mostly metals, can have up to 30 types of minerals in circuit board)
- TV’s and monitors
- Extras ranging from lawnmowers to kettles to hairdryers.
A safe work station run by 12 employees is where materials get separated: copper from blenders, metals from motherboards and glass from copy machines. You would be amazed to see what precious metals they can retrieve from an old cell phone, laptop or circuit board. The recovery of these metals is done in Europe because we do not yet have the technology in South Africa; but it is something we should work towards.
Once the materials are separated, they are transported to recycling depots; hazardous waste is disposed of in the Vissershok Hazardous Landfill. Here it is contained by specific cement flooring so the toxic chemicals do not infiltrate the water. Some materials are granted to Waste-to Art enthusiasts, like the cleaned circuit board for notebooks. Other materials, like magnets and ink cartridges, are resold.
E-waste in South Africa
Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste in Southern Africa. 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste is being generated globally each year.
Why should you recycle e-waste?
- E-waste causes serious environmental damage and needs appropriate treatment
- Recover finite minerals in e-waste and without recycling resources from secondary sources
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions as ‘mining’ minerals from e-waste is less work intensive and carbon taxing than mining in the earth
- It lowers you personal carbon footprint
A challenge hindering e-waste in South Africa is the lack of local technological advancement and the lack of funds to finance large scale smelters and sorters. Much of the e-waste we generate cannot be recycled nationally and need to be exported to smelters in Europe.
When you get that next cell phone upgrade, or a new and bigger TV, use ECYCLE to recycle your electronic waste.
You can contact Florian Schiller at:
Phone: 086 144 4942
Fax: 086 694 8021
Address: Oosterland Industrial Park No.1 / Unit 10, Oosterland Street, Paarl, South Africa
By Soninke Combrinck