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It investigated whether South African organisations understand the nature of E-WASTE, the laws regarding the dumping of E-WASTE, and whether they know of legislation that has been passed regarding E-WASTE.

It emerged that close to half (48%) of the respondents are unaware that legislation has been passed making it illegal to dump electronic waste.

Ulze van Wyk, MD of AFRICA E-WASTE, says the E-WASTE challenge will only be solved when there are public and private partnerships to address this issue. She says organisations need to understand the legal implications of disposing used or redundant equipment illegally.

The survey results did not come as a surprise to Van Wyk. “I expected this as I find it every time when I am dealing with E-WASTE issues. The survey shows the country has a lot of catching up to do,” she notes.

She says the problem, in general, is that waste strategies are more focused on plastics & paper than development of infrastructure to facilitate proper recycling of electronic waste.

When asked if E-WASTE is an important issue to their company, 39.33% of respondents said it is and their companies prioritise the safe disposal of E-WASTE. Some 46.63% said it is important but they need to be better informed about E-WASTE issues. Only 14% said they do care about E-WASTE and they do not have the resources to manage it.

No dumping site

According to Van Wyk, there should be joint education programmes between the public and the private sector to encourage companies and consumers to be aware of the long-term benefit of correctly disposing their E-WASTE.

“It is important to understand legislation of this nature, as this can help companies stay on the right side of the law and, most importantly, protect the environment.”

Companies should also know about data protection on hard drives, she says. “They should know the consequences of their data as well as company data falling in the wrong hands and cost of not disposing E-WASTE correctly.”

Van Wyk says having tight legislation will further prevent Africa from becoming a dumping ground for E-WASTE.

Managing E-WASTE in SA should not be only up to European standards. The country should follow its own legislation and solve the lack of knowledge of refurbishment and recycling infrastructures.

She says there are organisations which can help in managing E-WASTE. These include the E-WASTE Association of SA (eWasa) set up to manage the establishment of a sustainable environmentally sound E-WASTE management system for the country, she explains.

However, 55% of the respondents said they have never heard of eWasa. The survey also revealed that only 9.5% of the respondents are affiliated to the organisation.

Van Wyk urges eWasa to create more awareness using the media to get more organisations to know about it.

Green strategies

The survey also showed that around a third of the respondents do not have E-WASTE strategies in place. Many companies only think about the procurement of equipment and retirement of equipment does not form part of their cycle, Van Wyk says.

This means they are not yet aware of the full total cost of ownership and they are not aware of the legal implications of not having this in place, she points out.

She says there are advantages of having an E-WASTE strategy, adding that at the time of purchase, businesses must know what process to follow when the equipment becomes old and needs to be retired.

The other advantages of having an E-WASTE strategy, she says, are that companies may even realise their return on investment. “This also gives managers peace of mind knowing that no data is leaking from their company. This will also ensure the business is on the right side of the law, adhering to legislation.

On the positive side, 65% of the respondents said their companies have a policy for the disposal of redundant IT equipment.

Some 35.29% of these say the policy is internally developed but does not conform to legislation and half of them say their policies conforms to legislation. On the other hand, 13.73% say their policy follows eWasa's best practice guidelines.

Van Wyk says this shows there is a definite increase in the awareness of E-WASTE. However, there is no urgency in prioritising correct E-WASTE disposal and a lack of understanding of the importance of having internal disposal policies in place.