Producers and importers of electronic and electrical products, lighting, and lighting equipment have until 4 November to sign up to various industry producer responsibility organisations to comply with new regulations pertaining to the management of electronic waste.
The extended producer responsibility regulations, promulgated under the National Environmental Waste Act, will come into effect on 5 November. The new rules stipulate that manufacturers and producers are responsible for the end-of-life management of their products. The regulations are seen as a game-changer in the industry that has seen a growing demand because electronic devices have become a necessity for consumers.
“It is the fastest-growing waste stream, because these products do reach the end of life and it is becoming a huge problem to manage; that is why we need to create awareness,” said Patricia Schröder, the vice-chair of the central branch of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa.
Some of the commonly used products that result in e-waste include small domestic appliances, household portable batteries, lighting, and IT and communication equipment and consumables, such as printer cartridges.
Schröder told the Mail & Guardian that the regulations would drive consumer awareness, benefit the environment, increase innovation, and create jobs and skills development programmes.
South Africa’s current recycling rate is between 2% and 2.5% for waste lighting and between 10% and 12% for other waste electrical and electronic equipment. It is expected that the regulations will increase the collection and recycling rate.
“A laptop, to a user, may not cause any harm but at the end of its life, when you dispose of it, it then becomes waste and needs to be treated as hazardous waste,” Schröder added.
“For example, cables get burnt to free up the copper. That burning is extremely hazardous and toxic because it releases cosmogenic material, which can cause cancer. [This material] goes into the soil so if you leave these [products] out in the environment for a long time, this toxic material can go into the ground,” she said.
The hazardous and toxic components found in electronic waste mean that, as of August, such waste can no longer be dumped at landfills; it may be recycled only by licenced recycling facilities.
Schröder has advised all manufacturers and importers of the regulated products to contact the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa and the department of environmental affairs, forestry and fisheries to register, so that they comply with the new regulations.