opinionBy Moses Amweelo
E-WASTE is considered to be the fastest growing waste stream both globally and in Southern Africa, as a result of an absolute growing market, rapid technology change, and even planned obsolescence.
In 2009, 1,2 billion cellphones and 305 millions of computers were sold worldwide. After an average life cycle of 3 - 5 years, these devices are entering the waste stream NOW.
Though on a smaller scale, but above applies to Southern Africa and to Namibia as well. For South Africa (in the absence of reliable data for Namibia), it is estimated that about 1 - 2 million tons are stockpiled in domestic households with even bigger volumes kept by government and parastatals. E-waste constitutes 5 percent of municipal solid waste mix, however accumulating much faster than conventional solid waste. In Namibia, the current practice is that e-waste is mixed with regular solid waste volumes and deposited on public landfills - if not discarded in informal sites.
This situation is suboptimal for two reasons: e-waste is a potential threat for the environment as individual components contain toxic substances and enter the ecosystems if handled and discarded improperly.
E-waste also offers itself as a valuable source for precious raw materials, and a basis for an eco-efficient recycling industry.
The well-known Namibian company Transworld Cargo (Pty) Ltd introduced an e-waste management solution in 2012, and completed the pilot phase before the end of the year. Mr Frank Gschwender (Business & Organisation, Transworld Cargo) said: "Both private and business partners received the new service very positively. Private households drop off their e-waste at Transworld Cargo premises, some call in all the way from Tsumeb, Omaruru or Mariental. Public institutions such as secondary schools including St Paul's College, Delta School and DHPS pro-actively approached Transworld Cargo to install a collection point on school premises."
Companies such as Namibian Engineering Corporation, Samsung and FNB are sponsoring the dedicated collection bins, which offer convenient collection solutions for the schools as well as for the associated families. In addition, the initiative provides ample practical examples for environmental educational programmes for students, complementing the curricula.
This is a cooperative win-win-win approach that could be adopted by many other institutions and organisations.
Businesses including banks, insurance companies and big corporates but also smaller enterprises started utilising the collection service. Beyond the monetary benefit of avoiding a paid drop off at a municipal landfill site, most of the companies expressed genuine appreciation of the option to responsibly dispose of the e-waste. "We have been waiting for so long for an opportunity to get rid of our e-waste - in a responsible and affordable way," commented one of the partner companies.
Very commendable also that some industry associations such as hospitality, engineering, mining or the ICT Alliance actively promoted the service to their members. In future, hopefully more associations take the initiative to act as critical multipliers. Unfortunately, State Owned Enterprises were slow to react although they presumably suffer most from huge company e-waste volumes.
Most of them feel handicapped by internal policies and regulations. However, some such as MTC, NDC, Unam and Polytechnic showed an innovative spirit and started to allow for recycling instead of land filling their e-waste; they found recycling solutions within their procurement policies.
The municipalities benefit from the private sector initiative, as it obviously supports their municipal "waste minimization strategies". The City of Windhoek and Walvis Bay Municipality offer indirect support, such as awareness creation amongst the municipal citizens. Walvis Bay went a step further and allowed the establishment of a dedicated collection point at the entry gate to the municipal landfill area, to ensure that e-waste does not even reach the municipal landfill site.
The National Assembly through the Standing Committee on ICT showed particular interest and initiative and took real ownership of an attempt to fast track solutions for the public sector. The committee, in cooperation with the ministry of ICT as the responsible line ministry lobbied the wider government to take e-waste on its agenda.
An initial set of sector discussions mobilised ministries such as OPM, Finance, and Works that will be involved in future waste management solutions for the public sector. The collection produced considerable volumes of e-waste. The material stream primarily consisted of office equipment such as computers, laptops, screens, servers, telephones, etc. followed by consumer electronics and by household appliances.
The dismantling and material recovery process proved a recovery rate of 70 percent of material collected - that would have ended up at municipal landfills otherwise. "It is fantastic to see that what we used to throw away can be used further," says Transworld Cargo's dismantler Ipinge Ndjene.
The dismantlers are actively seeking additional recycling solutions for components that are currently still disposed of, and thus increase the recovery rate. The objective remains to recycle 90 percent-plus, which is international standard in countries with a sophisticated downstream recycling industry.
The international development community could play a very supportive role for such technology and know-how transfer. Above optimisation largely depends on the availability of companies with technical recycling solutions for specific component groups.
Due to the absence of a local recycling industry the bulk of material still needs to be exported to South Africa or overseas. Clearly, export is only second price while local value adding through recycling would be first price. Slowly, some local businesses are looking into opportunities, e.g. the recycling of computer plastics into low cost housing materials such as roof tiles. Others explore ways and means to extract semi-precious and precious raw materials from computer parts such as circuit boards. What is required to exploit this potential is entrepreneurial spirit. It particularly offers ample opportunities for SME's with above qualities.
After having piloted the programme, the way forward is scaling up the services. That means a geographic rollout and fostering local value adding.
The public and business sector including the parastatals are invited to actively utilise the service, not at least as part of corporate environmental responsibility. Representative institutions are requested to act as multipliers to further reach out to the public on a national scale.
Business communities in secondary hubs are challenged to organize local collection and consolidation of e-waste, and consult with the service provider on final recycling / disposal solutions. Business including the SME sector is challenged to come up with innovative solutions for local recycling and value adding, downstream from collection and dismantling.