E-waste Awareness: A Deep Dive into iLembe’s Recycling Potential

Artistic representation of a circuit board with a grassy texture in the shape of Earth, symbolising green technology.

In a focused attempt to promote better recycling habits, Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) closely examined how electronic waste is handled in the iLembe District by undertaking a household e-waste survey. Their findings revealed important gaps in knowledge and behaviours around e-waste, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). This study points towards a more eco-friendly future for Mandeni, Ndwedwe, Maphumulo, and KwaDukuza communities.

Exposing the E-Waste Reality

Pile of discarded appliances, including refrigerators and washing machines, representing e-waste awaiting recycling under a stormy sky.

The household survey conducted by SRI explored the current awareness and handling of e-waste across 394 households in iLembe. The survey showed that 73.9% of respondents didn’t know what e-waste was. This lack of knowledge also affects how people get rid of e-waste, with only 23% of households indicating that they have previously recycled e-waste. It is promising, however, the fact that over half of households have attempted to repair broken electronic and electrical items.

Regarding other e-waste management approaches, slightly less than one in three households stores e-waste in their homes rather than disposing of it, with most citing “financial value” as the reason for doing so. Slightly more than a third of households choose to donate their e-waste to friends and family, waste pickers, charities, and employees. Both approaches can avoid immediate environmental damage but raise concerns for future disposal.

The survey also highlighted that almost half of the respondent households add e-waste to their general waste. This is worrying considering that 48% of respondents also noted that they burn their general waste. This could suggest that a substantial amount of e-waste is being incinerated, leading to environmental and human health hazards.

Bar chart summarising e-waste behaviour in iLembe, with 51.8% repairing devices, 46.2% adding e-waste to general waste, 34.8% donating, 31% storing, and 23.1% recycling e-waste.

The EEE Predicament

The study also investigated the different types and amounts of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) kept in homes. It found that the “big four”—large household appliances, small household appliances, monitor-based EEE, and small IT equipment—were the most common categories. For these four categories, households have an average of between 2-4 appliances or devices, of which between 15%-19% are not working and considered e-waste. Given the Census 2022 results revealing a household population of 187,182 in the iLembe District Municipality, there’s likely a significant amount of e-waste in these homes.

Repairing EEE

Assortment of discarded electronic items and tangled cables, depicting the complexity of e-waste recycling.

Although it is important to make sure that e-waste ends up in the hands of licensed recyclers, the reuse of broken EEE is of greater preference when considering the waste management hierarchy. Notably, over half of households attempt to repair broken EEE. Similar to previous trends, the ‘big four’ EEE categories are most often repaired by households:

  • 76.5% repair large household appliances such as fridges and washing machines
  • 59.8% repair small household appliances such as toasters and microwaves
  • 42.6% repair monitor-based equipment such as TVs and laptops
  • 40.7% repair small IT equipment such as cellphones, tablets, and printers.

For other e-waste categories, including security and medical equipment, tools, small devices, and solar panels, repair efforts are notably lacking.

Recycling Habits

Outdoor collection of assorted e-waste including refrigerators, monitors, and other appliances awaiting recycling.

Only 23.1% of households have previously recycled e-waste, which is a big concern considering the environmental impact and lost economic opportunities from sending e-waste to landfills. The low recycling rate in the iLembe District mainly reflects the need for more awareness and knowledge about e-waste recycling, along with a clear shortage of e-waste management services.

Those who do recycle mostly focus on the “big four”, with 95.6% recycling large household appliances, 79% recycling small household appliances, 61% recycling monitors, and 42% recycling small IT equipment and devices. For all other types of e-waste, the rate of recycling is very low. How they recycle also differs. Looking closer at how households recycle showed the following:

  • 72.5% deposit e-waste at collection points
  • 28.6% give e-waste to waste pickers
  • 28.6% deliver their e-waste directly to an e-waste recycler
  • 17.6% have their e-waste collected by e-waste recyclers directly
  • 8.8% utilise retail take-back services
  • 8.8% have e-waste collected by a waste management company
  • 2.2% participate in e-waste collection campaigns

It’s important to note that this survey was completed before the 2023 International E-waste Day. In recent years, this event has seen an uptick in engagement from Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) and other entities, leading to more e-waste collection campaigns. Consequently, it’s anticipated that such collection methods will gain more traction in the future.

When it comes to how easy it is to recycle, the answers mostly land on the “average” level, with 38% of people feeling neutral about the difficulty of e-waste recycling. Although there’s room to make recycling simpler, it doesn’t seem too hard for those who already do it.

Bar chart showing public perception of the ease of recycling e-waste, with 38% rating it as average, 21% easy, 11% very easy, 22% difficult, 4% very difficult, and 3% unsure.

When looking at why people recycle, it mainly comes from a good place, with environmental concerns (42%) playing a substantial part. However, the big problem stopping recycling is a lack of knowledge, with 82% saying they don’t know enough about general e-waste and 53% lacking recycling awareness. This lack of understanding keeps many households in iLembe away from recycling their e-waste.

Find WEEE Recyclers and Waste Collectors in iLembe and in KZN here.

Closing Thoughts

Used batteries collected in a blue recycling bin, highlighting the need for responsible disposal of hazardous e-waste.

The detailed analysis by SRI shows a strong need for a big e-waste awareness and management effort in the iLembe District. The WEEE are iLembe initiative is part of this change. This movement aligns with the broader national efforts by e-waste Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), which are increasingly driving consumer-facing awareness activities. These national endeavours, coupled with local actions like those of WEEE are iLembe, contribute significantly to steering iLembe and, by extension, the nation towards a sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

By using social media and getting the community involved, there’s hope to change the current lack of e-waste knowledge into active recycling actions.

Let’s strengthen this movement together. Follow WEEE are iLembe on Facebook and Instagram.

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