The South African electronic-waste (e-waste) recycling industry has not yet reached a point where most components are recovered for reuse, University of KwaZulu-Natal rare earth recycling technologies researcher Mark Williams-Wynn told delegates at the WasteCon 2018 exhibition on Wednesday.
He explained that the South African government has, over the last decade, introduced legislation to encourage the development of a waste management hierarchy, and a large percentage of items such as plastics, metals and glass are recycled.
“However, there are many types of waste, and in particular e-waste, that cannot simply be mechanically separated, but require more advanced technologies to separate the constituents to a point that the individual components can be reused, such that a circular economy is developed.”
For some e-waste, the technologies necessary to undertake the recycling do exist elsewhere in the world, but in many cases they are not suitable for implementation in South Africa, Williams-Wynn noted.
“There are various reasons for this, including the scale of operation, the economic feasibility and the feed quality requirements.
“For other types of e-waste, there are no technologies available worldwide for the environmentally ethical recycling thereof.”
Meanwhile, e-Waste Association of South Africa (Ewasa) representative Keith Anderson agreed that e-waste recycling is in its infancy in South Africa and relatively immature in terms of the emerging enterprises and entrants into the market.
He highlighted the need for local beneficiation of e-waste fractions to create new enterprises, jobs and growth within this emerging sector in the green economy.
Currently, in South Africa, existing e-waste practitioners are exporting personal computer (PC) board fractions to European and other global markets to be paid out a maximum return on investment.
“ . . . we are actually exporting jobs, resources and foreign exchange by doing so,” Anderson pointed out.
As part of efforts to curb the export of e-waste, Ewasa has embarked on a programme that is coupled to the outcomes of the Operation Phakisa on Chemicals and Waste Economy of South Africa and with the Industry Waste Management Plan for e-waste.
It has partnered with local technology experts in various sectors to take technology that has been locally available in South Africa and develop it into a world-class commercial solution for the beneficiation of precious metals from PC boards found in e-waste, as well as other fractions that require specialist treatment and beneficiation.
“Not only will this address the lack of technology locally, but it will also facilitate the management of extended producer responsibility on behalf of original-equipment manufacturers.
“The programme will also create awareness for consumers on the need for responsible e-waste disposal and recycling,” explained Anderson, adding that the programme will look to advance the beneficiation of gold, silver, palladium and copper, as well as research and development of treatment technologies for cathode ray tube glass, computer plastics and lithium-ion batteries.