Across the country, broken appliances and old tech devices are piling up in people’s homes, gathering dust – a waste of valuable resources, and a potential fire hazard.

This is according to E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA), a local producer responsibility organisation (PRO) that is urging people to declutter their homes and drop off their electronic waste for recycling or repair this holiday season.

Only 10% of waste is currently recycled in South Africa(1), while almost all urban areas in South Africa are running out of approved or licensed space at landfill sites – with electronic waste constituting as the fastest growing waste stream of them all. While the uptake of recycling for glass, paper, tin, and plastic has become more common, up until now it has been unclear what to do with old domestic appliances and ICT equipment, which falls into the electronic waste – or e-waste – category.

During the festive season household waste increases by up to 25%(4), and South Africans are being urged to be responsible with their waste. According to ERA, recycling e-waste is better for the environment, helps with job creation in the country, and means that valuable materials do not go to waste – for example, Christmas lights contain copper, glass, and plastics that could be re-used.

“The upcoming holidays present an opportunity for South Africans to declutter the electronic waste that has been piling up in homes. Our e-waste drop off points are at Makros nationwide and are open during store operating hours, which excludes Christmas Day and New Year’s Day,” explains Ashley du Plooy, CEO of ERA.

Technology is moving at a rapid pace and global demand for electronic devices is on the rise, as is the number of used and discarded gadgets. Electronic waste also includes broken household appliances like refrigerators and washing machines – even some children’s toys are considered e-waste, because they take batteries.

E-waste is the most complex waste to manage and process; due to potentially toxic components used in their production such as lead and mercury, as well as a mix of materials including wires and plastics.

Initiatives from the likes of E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA) are doing their part to raise awareness around this issue and increase the uptake of e-waste recycling in more homes across the country. For a recent campaign ERA ran for International E-waste Day, over 130 tonnes of e-waste was collected over one weekend. “The kind of items that were unearthed was very revealing as to how long people have been hoarding e-waste – we saw everything from unwanted refrigerators to washing machines, rusting cookers, old printers and big old broken box TVs,” says du Plooy.

Spending typically goes up over the festive season, with South Africans expected to spend R200-billion, presenting an opportunity for shoppers to be more green.

Advises du Plooy: “Being less wasteful this festive season could also help South Africans save money. Buying less or of a better quality is just smart shopping at the end of the day – and better for the environment. A lot of discarded electronic items could even be repaired and regifted.”

Electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of waste globally, and South Africa is no exception – with 415 500 tonnes of e-waste produced in 2019 (source: United Nations Global E-waste Monitor), which is the equivalent of more than 11 500 humpback whales.

“Southern Africa is running out of landfill space and so we all have a responsibility to be waste-wise by correctly sorting and disposing of our waste,” concludes du Plooy. “The good news is, awareness is the first step to becoming part of the solution.”

ERA’s electronic waste drop-off points are currently situated at Makro stores nationwide, and will soon include Pick n Pay and Builder’s Warehouse stores.

Examples of e-waste to recycle this season include:

  • Battery-powered toys
  • Christmas lights
  • Refrigerators
  • Washing machines
  • Laptops
  • Desktop computers
  • Cellphones
  • Hard drives