You can’t just throw away old electronics

By Hanno Labuschagne for MyBroadband

Getting rid of broken or obsolete computer components is not as simple as throwing them in the trash.

In South Africa, the disposal of old electronic equipment like hard drives and batteries is governed by various regulations.

The National Environmental Waste Act of 2008 requires the appropriate disposal of hazardous waste such as batteries that contain chemicals which pose a danger to the environment.

Additionally, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) necessitates the need for enterprises to completely delete any personal data from storage drives to protect employees and clients.

Both businesses and individuals therefore have an obligation to get rid of their old electronic equipment in a responsible manner to ensure the necessary compliance.

To find out more about the lawful destruction and recycling of e-waste, MyBroadband spoke to Desco Electronic Recyclers, E-waste SA, and Computer Scrap Recycling.

Types of goods
The types of electronic products that can be recycled, refurbished, or destroyed may vary from company to company.

Giulio Airaga from Desco Electronic Recyclers said that eligible devices are not limited to the IT industry.

“Anything electronic, with a plug or battery, or anything that has metal content. So the industries can vary, from the financial sector, to legal, to medical, to industrial. We are not limited to IT equipment. It is any kind of device or machine that is powered by electricity,” Airaga said.

Computer Scrap Recycling also listed a myriad of electrical and electronic goods that typically qualify.

These include monitors, laptops, desktop PCs, printers, photocopiers, servers, scanners, PVC cables, motherboards, UPSs, keyboards, and cameras.

Other general household electric appliances include stoves, fridges, washing machines, air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, kettles, irons, lawnmowers, drills, grinders, and transformers.

The process
Customers typically have the option of either taking their old goods to a waste depot, or having them picked up from their home or office, said the companies.

Airaga explained that upon delivery to the depot, the materials are weighed before being off-loaded and separated according to predefined waste streams.

During separation, the materials are unpacked and sorted into waste streams for further processing and dismantling.

This is when items are dismantled into “E-Waste fractions” – PC boards, plastics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, glass, and PVC cabling.

PC boards are shredded before being sent to refineries for smelting, while the other fractions are provided to specialist downstream vendors for recycling and recovery of secondary resource materials.

E-waste SA’s approach involves the processing of the received equipment, where devices are tested and earmarked for refurbishment, dismantling, and destruction.

From this, a report is generated which will show the status of each device, such as working, faulty, or scrap.

Any qualified e-waste recycler must also provide the customer with a recycling certificate upon completion of the process.

Data destruction
It is essential that any private information contained on storage devices be dealt with appropriately when disposing of e-waste.

Clients must be furnished with another certificate confirming that the correct procedures have been followed to ensure that no data can be salvaged or parts put back into the market for further use.

Desco securely destroys hard drives, magnetic tapes, tablets, cellphones, GPS units, and other devices that may contain sensitive data.

For the destruction of hard drives, the company charges R20 per unit excluding VAT, while the secure destruction of other e-waste is priced at R10 per kg.

Additionally, Computer Scrap Recycling said it removes any logo or indications of previous owners from all devices.

“Tags, company names, and stickers are all removed from the equipment when it arrives at our premises and a code is allocated to the equipment for company records,” the company said.

“All non-working devices are crushed and we make sure that no data or information is leaked during the destruction or refurbishment process.”

For devices that are intended for refurbishment rather than destruction, Computer Scrap Recycling erases all data and wipes drives through low level format and zero format.

Prices and compensation
When it comes to the pricing involved with e-waste recycling, customers may find a range of options available.

To establish the exact compensation or charges for recycling, the goods will need to be assessed by the chosen recycler.

Airaga said that Desco compensates clients for the delivery of e-waste to its door, while it charges for collection if the total weight of the equipment is less than 1,000kg. There can be exceptions to this, however.

“Depending on the type of electronics, if it is less than 1,000kg but the value of the e-waste is higher, we can waive the collection fee,” Airaga said.

Generally, the price list is broad, but at Desco customers can expect household electronic goods delivered to Desco to get R1 in compensation per kg. IT equipment can range from R1 to R8 per kg.

Additionally, components such as RAM, CPUs, or PC Boards can fetch prices from R30 to R2,000 per kg at Desco.

E-Waste SA said it creates a purchase order based on the device report as described in its recycling process above, with a calculated value for the devices which were recovered or assessed.

This is then sent to the customer, who must create an invoice from this purchase order.

Legislative compliance
E-waste recyclers must also comply with the necessary legal requirements under environmental and data laws.

Computer Scrap Recycling and E-waste SA are members of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (Ewasa), a body which was established to develop an e-waste management system back in 2008.

Desco partners with the Southern African E-waste Alliance (SAEWA) and the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA), both of which promote and support the responsible management of e-waste.

Airaga explained that the consequences of irresponsible destruction or recycling could be devastating for the environment and humans.

“If these fractions get dumped, their chemicals leach into the ground. They affect the soil and the groundwater underneath it. You can’t plant on this soil, and if you drink the water that comes from the water table where e-waste was dumped you can get poisoned,” Airaga said.

He added that the approach to batteries in particular was important.

“All are hazardous, but lead acid batteries have a recovery value because of the lead, so we can buy them. But lithium-ion (from cellphones or laptops) doesn’t have a recycling solution, therefore, it either goes to a hazardous landfill or gets incinerated.”

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