Three Key Ministries Pledge Full Support for Newly Launched Ambitious South African e-Waste Project

South Africa, 16 February 2021: Today marked the official beginning of a high-profile collaboration between key stakeholders in South Africa and Switzerland to meet South Africa’s rising future e-waste challenge. Embedded in the global Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) programme (2020-2023), the collaboration shall untap the economic opportunities while ensuring that environmental integrity and human health is not compromised.

In her welcoming address to the launch participants, Ms. Franziska Spörri (Head of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in South Africa) asserted that the SRI e-waste programme reflects SECO`s overall approach to development cooperation based on contributing to social, economic, and environmental benefits. These sustainability aspects were comprehensively echoed by the representatives from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic), and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

The DEFF Chief Director, Ms. Mishelle Govender stressed “that this project could not have come at a more opportune time” given the Department’s commitment to work with all industry value chain stakeholders (both formal and informal) to devise workable and safe solutions for the management of e-waste. Joining forces with the SRI programme is truly a water-shed moment for the Department, as this collaboration provides the DEFF with crucial knowledge exchange support through international SRI partners namely the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science & Technology (Empa) and the World Resources Forum (WRF) who have already successfully supported the development and implementation of e-waste policy and regulations in many other countries world-wide.

The dtic Chief Director, Mr. Gerhard Fourie highlighted his expectations that given the current decline of many industrial activities across many sectors in South Africa, the SRI initiative is hoped to bring new opportunities for a green economy growth. He noted that in the light of rising environmental threats such as climate change, it is vital to find alternative economic opportunities, that enable South Africa to decrease current economic growth dependencies from the traditional industries, such as coal and metal mining, on which the wealth of South Africa has been mostly built.  The dtic has in the past successfully supported various waste repurposing projects such as the scrap steel beneficiation initiative. Therefore, it is hoped that the SRI initiative can equally bring new opportunities for a green economy growth.

The DSI Director Dr. Henry Roman concurred, pointing out that the SRI programme will complement the work his department has been doing in partnership with the CSIR through the Waste RDI Roadmap for South Africa programme. A Technology Economy study in 2014 revealed that more recycling of e-waste could bring notable benefits to South Africa. If the country manages to increase its recovery for recycling rates (currently hovering around 10%) up to 30%, it will yield an additional 32 million Rands per year injection into the ailing South African economy. In line with one of SRI’s programme objectives linked to finding safe treatment solution for problematic e-waste fractions, the DSI has dedicated grants for South Africa’s academia to find technical treatment and beneficiation solutions for e-waste suitable for South Africa.

Three more international keynote proceeded by sharing viable solutions that have been found in other countries to be successful with introducing policy, creating a level playing field of e-waste operators with operational and technical norms and standards and providing purification and subsequent beneficiation opportunities for problematic e-waste fractions such as plastics.

A South African keynote speech was also given via the Appliance Bank Founder Tracey Gilmore. Passionately she shared the successful business model that created already thousands of jobs for unemployed in South Africa by teaching them appliance repair skills through a very holistic two-year training assignment and close affiliation to the Appliance Bank.

The launch ended with Ms Franziska Spörri summarizing the key take-aways of this speaker engagement. She noted that the timing seems perfect for this Swiss/South African collaboration thanks to a committed multi-disciplinary group of public and private sector stakeholders backing and endorsing the SRI project going forward.

About the Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) programme:

The SRI project South Africa is part of the global Sustainable Recycling Industries programme, with participation of Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Colombia and Peru. SRI aims at building capacity for sustainable e-waste recycling by supporting national initiatives and implementing pilot projects. The first phase of the SRI programme has been implemented from 2013 – 2018 and is now in its second phase from 2019 – 2023. The overall development objective of the SRI programme (Phase 2) is to create favourable framework conditions, which enables the development of a sustainable recycling industry for e-waste and any related waste streams. In all its activities, SRI strives for an inclusive approach of enabling beneficial economic conditions for both the formal industry stakeholders and the informal sector. Therefore, SRI leverages steps and strategies leading to both a resource preserving circular economy transition and contributing to actions on climate change mitigation through the recovery and reintegration of secondary raw materials into industrial processes. The programme is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) and is implemented by the Institute for Materials Science & Technology (Empa) and the World Resources Forum (WRF).

Some of the key outcomes and deliverables that are envisaged for South Africa and will be pursued via both the national and local (iLembe) project team include:

  • The development of e-waste policy (on national and local level);
  • Norms and standards to define minimum working conditions for formal e-waste value chain partners and to allow for strategic informal sector integration
  • Support for producer responsible organisations (PROs) and voluntary industrial organisations to get set up for the currently emerging EPR system
  • Assistance with the development of both auditing skills and capacity to assess e-Waste value chain operators
  • Development of a National e-waste learner curriculum
  • Pilot project in ILembe with the informal waste sector to collect e-waste via a newly developed app.