Concern for the environment is shaping up as one of the major issues in 2007 as companies and individuals alike become aware of the urgent need for green reform. 


Visitors to Futurex & Equip this year are invited to do their bit for the environment by bringing their old electronic products to be disposed of correctly instead of simply disposing of them in the trash.
African Sky will make an area available at the exhibition and visitors can take the opportunity to throw away their outdated kit, secure in the knowledge that it will be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly and safe way. Any data still on the machines will also be securely destroyed.
"It's important for companies and individuals to start taking responsibility for their e-waste. If we don't start taking it seriously we could cause massive, long-term damage to the environment," says Allan Werth, MD of African Sky.
“South Africa’s e-waste volumes are increasing exponentially, as they have in the rest of the world. Legislation, both internationally and in South Africa, holds organisations accountable for the damage they inflict on the environment, and the penalties can run into millions of rands.”
As the only ISO 14001-certified specialist e-waste solution company in South Africa, African Sky is ideally positioned to provide insight into the recycling and secure destruction of electronic waste – in South Africa, Africa and globally. A BEE organisation, African Sky has been in operation since 2004 and has all the local and international accreditation to meet the full spectrum of e-waste requirements.
The company recycles e-waste for a number of South Africa’s blue-chip corporates as well as e-waste emanating from countries throughout Africa. Its business model, which revolves around recycling 98% of tonnage received, creates employment opportunities for unskilled people, who receive on-the-job training. African Sky recently formed a strategic partnership with global e-waste recycler TESS-AM and is now expanding its operation to handle e-waste from across the African continent.
Jo Melville, MD of Futurex & Equip organiser Exhibitions for Africa, points out that macro issues like greenhouse gas emissions and climate change affect everyone: but, closer to home, toxins leached into local water and soil supplies and even the increased cost of electricity affect everyone.
And South Africans have no room to feel complacent: while this country's greenhouse gas emissions are only a fraction of countries like the US and Japan, we still rank a staggering 15th overall in terms of our contribution to greenhouse gases and global warming.
Despite this, the concept of greening our homes and businesses is a relatively new one to most South Africans – and many are still in the dark as to how to go about it.
Within the IT industry, major vendors are making a concerted effort to produce chips that consume less power, server systems that are better conservators of electricity and PCs that draw less from the grid than their predecessors.
Most companies are looking at these systems because they are starting to count the cost of the electricity used to run their IT systems, but it will still have a positive effect on greenhouse gases, as the electricity producer would burn less coal to produce the electricity being saved.
On a personal level, individuals can make a huge contribution towards greening the planet, without too much effort at all, says Melville.
"Currently, South Africans simply throw away most of their waste and so it all ends up as landfill. These landfills – apart from being unsightly – produce greenhouse gases like methane which contribute to global warming."
Most solid waste, from paper to tin cans and plastics, could be recycled, she adds. This not only reduces landfill but helps to conserve the raw materials that go into these products in the first place.
Importantly, there is a growing call for people to recycle their electronic goods as well.
"The quantity of electronic goods finding their way into landfills is growing at a staggering rate," says Melville. "Companies and individuals are constantly upgrading and replacing their electronic goods, from DVD players and monitors to PCs, servers and cellular phones.
"However, 90% of the old products end up as landfill where they not only contribute to greenhouse gases, but also leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water supplies."
Melville points out that South Africans have obsoleted about 5-million computers in the last 10 years, with a lot more due to be retired in the years ahead. And this isn't even counting the number of consumer electronics devices, such as televisions and cellular phones, that are set to be dumped.
"There are a number of potential long-term human health and environmental impacts arising from leaching of heavy metals from e-waste into ground water," she says. "With e-waste, a particular concern is lead, with an average 17-inch computer monitor containing more than 1kg of lead."
E-waste contains a wide variety of other hazardous materials, including:
* Cadmium, which can impact on our kidneys.
* Mercury, which makes its way into waterways where it is transformed into methylated mercury in the sediments. If it travels up the food chain it can cause brain damage.
* Hexavalent Chromium or Chromium VI, which can damage DNA and has been linked to asthmatic bronchitis.
* Brominated flame retardants, which can get into the food chain and could act as an endocrine disrupter, increasing the risk of cancer in the digestive and lymph systems.
Although a lot of plastic goes into electronic equipment, it is a challenge to recycle because many different varieties are used and they also contain contaminants like metal screws and inserts, coatings and paints, foams and labels.
Adding to the cost of e-waste is that fact that electronics are made using valuable resources like precious metals, engineered plastics, glass, and other materials – all of which require energy to manufacture.
When equipment is thrown away, these resources cannot be recovered and additional pollution will be generated to manufacture new products out of new raw materials.
"The problem of e-waste is a big one and it's becoming bigger all the time," says Melville. "By running the initiative at Futurex & Equip, whereby visitors can easily dispose of their electronic goods in a safe and environmentally-friendly way, we hope to raise awareness and help point companies and individuals in the right direction in future."
Futurex & Equip will be held from 15-18 May 2007 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.