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It also noted that “basic environmental precautions are absent at some recyclers, and health and safety regulations are loosely enforced”. Logistical issues, such as transport costs, were presenting a major hurdle, and informal E-WASTE recycling involved crude practices, exposing practitioners to hazardous by-products, and left them open to exploitation.

The assessment calls for “collective action in dealing with the e-waste challenge in South Africa, including developing appropriate policy and legislation, a practical e-waste management solution which has the buy-in of all stakeholders”.

The current state

It would seem that given the dire state of affairs in 2008, the country's E-WASTE position would, today, be dismal at best. In truth, the progress made since the publishing of the assessment as been nothing short of astonishing.

One of the most exciting developments has been the promulgation of the Waste Act, 59 of 2008, and Notice GN 718 of 3 July 2009.

It is now illegal for individuals or companies to throw away anything that constitutes E-WASTE. Whether a light bulb, hairdryer, or server – these appliances now need to be recycled in a responsible way. Government and the establishment of Section 21 companies like eWASA have put guidelines in place to ensure sustainable and safe recycling processes are in place.

eWASA's chairman, Keith Anderson, has been invited by African countries to share South Africa's findings into the issue of e-waste, and to offer advice to our neighbours on how to establish a recycling framework, based on our locally developed best practices.

South Africa, through the devotion and passion of participants in this industry, from government through to private individuals, has had incredible progress towards achieving a wonderful success story. We have had the advantage of being able to study what Europe and North America has done in this regard. What mistakes were made, what worked, and what makes sense in the local environment?

South Africa faces its own set of unique challenges, however. One cannot mirror practices in a country like Switzerland in Africa. Geography, economics and logistics differ too much. South Africa has developed systems that work, yes South Africa is not where is should be, but thank goodness we are not where we were five years ago.

International pressure has been to our advantage. Global companies are governed by corporate best practice, and whether operating in Canada or India, have to follow an E-WASTE management plan. This has applied pressure to local companies, and we've certainly seen an increase in awareness in the corporate market.

We are making inroads in terms of educating and incentivising the public. There is a true shift in awareness towards the impact we can make to the sustainability of our planet through careful E-WASTE disposal.