Wednesday, August 20, 2008

South African Music v E-Waste

Johnny Clegg exposes SA`s e-waste

By Candice Jones
Posted: 19 August 2008
SA is generating vast quantities of electronic waste; however, the impact
of e-waste in the country is hidden.

According to Johnny Clegg, local musician and e-waste evangelist, delivering a keynote address at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2008, in Cape Town, there is a close connection between the dumping of e-waste and poverty.

Clegg said the large quantities of scrap metal that PCs produce created a new sector within the informal economy, known as metal and PC board scavengers. "The metal that people can salvage from the computer parts represents cash in hand for them. When they turn in a hard drive or metal to a dealer, they can at least put food on the table."

While SA has better regulation to protect against the illegal dumping of electronic goods, there are still those who are dumping, burning and shredding in areas that are not designated for these activities, he said.

Clegg`s presentation illustrated several dumping grounds in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, which are close to agricultural areas and are affecting drinking water and food production.

While SA`s legal system does not specifically qualify the law around e-waste, it does provide for the disposal and destruction of toxic elements, he noted. "People have been and will continue to be prosecuted for illegal disposal."

Companies that are caught dumping illegally could be fined, which in turn will bring bad publicity, he added. "If companies are listed, they will experience falling stock prices."

It`s a goldmine

Clegg commented that part of the disposal opportunities for PC motherboards comes in the form of "shredding". When people shred mainboards, the toxins contained in them are mixed and released into the environment.

According to him, the process is also often used for illegal gold and platinum production. While one ton of excavation will produce one ounce of gold, one ton of e-waste can produce up to six ounces of gold. "The gold is then exported along with the shredded waste and a market is created for it."

Copper is also a large local market and is often associated with the burning of the waste, said Clegg. He added that people could get around R20 for 1kg of copper.

While many African countries, like Ghana and Nigeria, are being affected by dumping from Europe and the US, disguised as donations, SA has managed to escape this. The country also does not export e-waste into other African countries, he said.

According to Clegg`s figures, SA is estimated to produce around 50 000 tons of e-waste a year. The US produces 2.5 million tons and Europe around 10 million tons. Of that, around 95% can be recycled, but the problem is the cost, he explained.

However, the more the e-waste recycling and disposal industry grows, the less it will cost, he concluded.

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