Advancing E-Waste Recycling in South Africa: The WEEE are iLembe Partnership Begins 

According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, 53,6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (also known as e-waste or WEEE) were produced globally in 2019 alone. That’s equal to about 500,000 Blue Whales. Contributing to it’s share of the mounting crisis, South Africa generates about 6.2 kilogrammes of e-waste per person every year. However, despite e-waste being the fastest-growing waste stream globally, e-waste recycling in South Africa remains inadequate. The recycling rate for waste lighting is estimated to be a mere 2% to 2.5%, with other types of e-waste faring only slightly better at a rate of 10% to 12%.

Recognising the hazardous nature of e-waste, South Africa took a step towards responsible waste management by implementing a landfill ban for e-waste, which came into effect on August 23, 2021. This action complemented an earlier ban on lamp disposal in landfills established five years prior. The National Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) initiated these bans to ensure that e-waste no longer ends up in municipal waste, but awareness and understanding of their implications remain limited, particularly among local government, small businesses, and households. The challenge lies not only in managing the volume of e-waste but also in enhancing public awareness and understanding of responsible e-waste disposal and recycling practices.

Phase II of the Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) Programme is currently being implemented in South Africa until mid-2025. Amongst other things, the national project component aims to support the development of a national e-waste policy and minimum requirement-based operational and technical norms and standards for the management of e-waste to create a more level playing field amongst various types of operators in the e-waste value chain. Falling under the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme, SRI also has a local component which is currently being implemented in iLembe. The focus of the iLembe project component is to ensure the harmonisation of local policies and by-laws and to strengthen the interface between stakeholders in the e-waste value chain.

Strides in E-Waste Recycling in South Africa

In 2022, the local iLembe team undertook detailed stakeholder engagement and research into the iLembe e-waste industry. The outcome was the iLembe WEEE landscape report, a comprehensive document that provides an in-depth look into the local e-waste value chain, details the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders, identifies the significant challenges facing the industry, and presents potential areas for growth. You can access the landscape report [here].

The landscape report revealed key findings, which highlighted that in terms of infrastructural development and public awareness creation, not much progress has been made in iLembe and there has been limited compliance with the landfill ban. The findings also showed that local policies and by-laws have not been updated to align with this ban, which points to a general lack of awareness about e-waste recycling among households and businesses in South Africa. Additionally, there is a severe scarcity of e-waste collection and alternative disposal options. This means that e-waste often ends up in engineered landfill sites or, worse still, illegal dump sites.

The Potential of E-Waste Recycling: The Story of “WEEE are iLembe”

In response to the identified challenges and immense untapped potential within the e-waste industry, a strategic partnership initiative, “WEEE are iLembe”, has been conceived. This initiative aims to bolster e-waste recycling in South Africa by supporting local stakeholders and unearthing opportunities that lie within the unique waste stream of e-waste. It is grounded on a shared vision and broad consensus among all stakeholders, setting the stage for the phased evolution of the e-waste industry within iLembe. This will concurrently bolster the institutionalisation of the Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) programme in iLembe, carving out a unique, autonomous brand for the industry.

Serving as a platform for engagement, “WEEE are iLembe” will foster multistakeholder partnerships that can drive collaborative projects and interventions. It is committed to enhancing e-waste awareness and advocating for policy harmonisation. Through this, the partnership aims to stimulate the controlled release and safe collection of increasing volumes of e-waste. This will not only create new opportunities for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) but will also significantly boost the rate of e-waste recycling in the iLembe region.

The Establishment Process

The process of establishing the “WEEE are iLembe” initiative began with the involvement and support of key stakeholders in the e-waste industry in South Africa. The SRI team reached out to these stakeholders, seeking their input and approval for the initiative. In October 2022, the SRI Steering Committee granted approval for the “WEEE are iLembe” initiative, marking an important milestone.

Starting in 2023, the local team has been actively working on formalising the partnership and its various components. One of the ongoing developments is the creation of a corporate identity for “WEEE are iLembe.” This involves designing a brand identity and developing a website that will serve as a central hub of information related to e-waste in the iLembe region of South Africa. In addition, social media pages have been established to engage with the community. In June 2023, the website and brand development process reached completion, aligning with the official launch of “WEEE are iLembe.”

In order to ensure a collaborative and inclusive approach, a first roundtable discussion took place on March 29, 2023, in Ballito. This discussion included key partners such as provincial and local government representatives, iLembe business and resident associations, WEEE recyclers, NGOs, waste picker representatives, and Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs). The interactive session allowed partners to express their willingness to collaborate and contribute as they recognised the value that the partnership holds for their respective organisations. During the discussion, the following core objectives were identified as priorities: encouraging enhanced WEEE collection, enhancing education and awareness, and building partnerships and collaboration.

Partners also contributed to shaping the vision for the WEEE are iLembe initiative. The vision aims to promote zero e-waste to landfill in iLembe by fostering collaboration, raising awareness, and increasing collection, ultimately leading to compliant e-waste recycling, new economic opportunities, and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, partners actively participated in selecting a preferred brand for the partnership and offering suggestions for the proposed projects that will kickstart the initiative.

With the collective efforts of stakeholders and the commitment to sustainable practices, “WEEE are iLembe” seeks to make a significant impact on e-waste recycling in South Africa, creating a greener and more environmentally conscious future for iLembe and beyond.

Current “WEEE are iLembe” Projects

“WEEE are iLembe” has identified a handful of initial projects that it will facilitate under its brand, implementing them collaboratively with relevant partners.

We are embarking on a crucial primary research study to delve into the causes and extent of e-waste stockpiles and disposal practices among households and businesses. This survey was shared with the residents and businesses in the district in June and July 2023. The findings from this study will help us identify trends and preferences in e-waste management, enabling us to develop targeted awareness campaigns tailored to specific needs and locations.

Our upcoming e-waste awareness campaign will shed light on the proper management of e-waste. Through our website, social media pages, and various marketing activities, we will share valuable information about different types of e-waste, correct disposal methods, and the responsible collectors and recyclers operating in the area. Keep an eye out for exciting events like the future iLembe WEEE collection drive, where residents, schools, and local businesses will be encouraged to participate actively in this district-wide initiative.

We recognise the challenges faced by local municipalities, including resource limitations, capacity constraints, and the need for technical expertise to implement effective recycling initiatives. To address these issues, we will offer our support in two key areas. Firstly, we will assist municipalities in aligning their by-laws and Integrated Waste Management Plans (IWMPs) with national legislation, including the draft National WEEE policy. Secondly, we will provide technical guidance to municipalities planning to establish waste drop-off and/or buy-back centres. By integrating e-waste as a crucial component of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW), we strive to enhance their waste management services.

Join the Movement: Creating a Sustainable Future

Through our awareness campaigns and various projects, “WEEE are iLembe” aims to improve compliance among residents and businesses, leading to increased e-waste recycling in the region. Together, we can unlock new business opportunities and foster a cleaner, healthier environment. Be part of this transformative journey towards a sustainable future for iLembe and beyond.

Contact us to get involved or become a partner. Learn more about WEEE recycling in iLembe or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay updated with our latest news.

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