First national e-waste centre on the cards

The establishment of an e-waste centre, the first of its kind in South Africa, was announced at the 2015 South African Technology Network (SATN) Conference running from October 19 to 21 at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park campus in Sebokeng.

Acting director-general for the department of environmental affairs, Mark Gordon, announced yesterday that through a partnership between his department and VUT, an e-waste recycling and management centre would be established at VUT’s Sebokeng campus.

The establishment of the centre was born out of discussions with the Minister for Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, and Dr Anshu Padayachee, chief executive of the South African Technology Network, seeking a solution to the staggering amount of toxic e-waste (discarded electronic devices such as cellphones and computers) ending up in landfills countrywide.

Said Gordon: “The centre will not only deal with the recycling and management of e-waste for the good of the environment but at the same time will address education and unemployment, especially in the Vaal Triangle that includes the four black townships of Boipatong, Bophelong, Sebokeng and Sharpville.

“Community involvement and participation is very important for the minister and the department,” he added. “Rural revitalisation through community involvement is one of the key deliverables of this project. It is meant to educate community members and to scale up the ‘spaza shop’ mentality: having communities create their own sustainable futures through entrepreneurial thought and innovation. It is aimed to produce students who are entrepreneurial and who will be able to pay for their studies without problems.” 

Professor Irene Moutlana, vice-chancellor of VUT, said that it is fitting that government and VUT came together to address the issue of e-waste while simultaneously addressing unemployment. “The centre will not only be built at the VUT Sebokeng Science and Technology campus, but community members and students will also be educated here about e-waste and the hazards it poses to the environment, as well as trained in turning e-waste into profitable opportunities.”

According to Padayachee, universities are one of the largest consumers and producers of e-waste while government is the largest, producing 80% of South Africa’s e-waste.

Padayachee also noted that this project already has the backing of the law and that legislation for it is already in place. “We are not just doing it because we feel it is a good thing to do. We are doing this in order to comply with international law, as per the Basel Convention.” The convention was formulated to reduce the transportation of hazardous waste between nations and ensure its safe disposal.

Gordon added that Government had adopted 40 e-waste resolutions at a previous e-waste summit, which had already been presented to Parliament. “It is envisioned to have the centre up and running and in full operation within the next year,” he said.

VUT Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park operations manager, Heinrich van der Merwe, concluded by saying that VUT will not only teach the theoretical aspect of e-waste management and recycling, but the facility will include the recycling machines and manufacturing equipment to turn e-waste into re-usable products. “For instance, we will be the first to hold the IP (internet protocol) for the recycling of the lead in computer screens.”

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