e-waste in the spotlight

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 held in October. 

Acting director-general for the department of environmental affairs, Mark Gordon, announced that through a partnership between his department, SATN and the Vaal University of Technology (VUT), an e-waste recycling and management centre would be established at the VUT Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park in Sebokeng.

The establishment of the centre was born out of discussions between the Minister for Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa and Dr Anshu Padayachee, chief executive of SATN, seeking a solution to the staggering amount of toxic e-waste 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 with some 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 issues of e-waste and 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.”

Gordon noted that this centre would be seen as a national demonstration centre, and serve as an example for other universities of technology (UOTs) to follow suit and establish their own centres. “If all UOTs in the various regions establish such e-waste centres, their immediate communities will benefit, not only from the hands-on training that will be available, but also because the community will be offered the opportunities to create their own businesses and employment for others. You can see this as the catalyst for our economic emancipation.”

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. She said that it is therefore apt that this e-waste centre is a collaborative effort between a UOT and a government department.

Padayachee said 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.” 

Gordon added that government adopted 40 e-waste resolutions at a previous e-waste summit, which has 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 for the recycling of the lead in computer screens”. He confirmed that the centre would be in operation by next year.

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