E-waste extraction

E-waste extraction

SHEQ MANAGEMENT investigates how and where to recycle old electronic devices

Our lives are dominated by technology – apps and sophisticated devices are often considered to be what defines our modern world. We use cellphones, laptops, desk-top computers, iPads, tablets, iPods and other MP3 devices practically every single day of our lives. We also know that this way of life will be refined as we move forward and will not disappear any time soon.

However, one thing we rarely think about when going for that upgrade is: what happens to my old device? Is it resold? Is it stripped for parts? Does the company recycle it? Can it even be recycled?

As it turns out, yes, recycling of electrical or electronic devices has (luckily) become a “thing” in the last few years. Recycling these devices falls under the e-waste (or electronic waste) umbrella, and the term includes electronics that are destined for re-use, resale, salvage or disposal. Generally, these goods have a short lifespan; one reason being the speed at which technology is advancing.

According to the website africanreporter.com, e-waste includes computers, laptops, cellphones, entertainment electronics and household appliances. It also includes less obvious items such as cables and spent fluorescent tubes, as well as chemical liquid-based goods such as batteries and printer cartridges that have been discarded.

One important thing to remember when it comes to e-waste, however, is that while it’s a valuable source for secondary raw material, it’s toxic if handled and discarded incorrectly. Luckily, there are more than a few places in South Africa where one can go and drop off old devices to have them recycled.

Established in 2008, the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWasa) lists more than 20 organisations that undertake e-waste recycling. These include Ubisi Metals in Benoni, PCs and Stuff in Cape Town, Bolunga Electronic Waste in East London and Zenzele Recycling in Kempton Park.

According to ewaste.com, most electronic waste goes through a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling system, which not only recycles 95 to 98 percent, by weight, of all e-waste passed through it, but ensures that any data left on hard drives and devices with a memory is thoroughly destroyed as well.

Desco Electronic Recyclers, an e-waste recycling company based in Gauteng, offers secure destruction of any data-storage media (for instance hard drives, backup tapes, ZIP discs, optical media and flash cards), which, it says, can be witnessed during the destruction process. According to its website, clients are provided with a Secure Destruction certificate as proof that their data has been deleted once the device is destroyed.

Desco also extracts copper, zinc and aluminium, as well as ferrous and non-ferrous metals through a process involving shredding, heat and chemical extraction. According to the company, plastic, glass and other materials are separated during the dismantling process, put into bins and sent on to down-stream vendors who specialise in the recycling of those materials.

To learn more about why e-waste is banned from being disposed of in landfill sites take a look at the National Environmental Management Act of 1998 and National Environmental Management: Waste Act 2008. Failure to comply with the Waste Act could result in a R10 million fine, jail time, or, in some cases, both.

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