Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), more commonly referred to as e-waste, is one of the fastest growing waste streams globally (Baldé, et al. 2015). This is driven by increased consumer demand, perceived equipment obsolescence, and rapid advancements in technology (Lydall, et al. 2017). E-waste contains a diversity of components which include metals, plastics, glass among other chemical substances. Value held in the metal fraction as a promising source of secondary metal supply, particularly for critical and strategic high-value metals (UNEP, 2013). The Department of Science and Technology (DST) classifies e-waste as one of the five priority waste streams to be addressed in the Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap for South Africa (SA) from 2015 - 2025. This roadmap puts emphasis on diverting waste from landfill sites towards value-adding opportunities for sustainable waste and secondary resource management (DST, 2014). Developing countries, such as SA, handle collection, dismantling and initial processing of e-waste is established to some degree, however, separated material fractions are exported to European and Asian markets for further processing and value-adding (Lydall, et al. 2017).
E-waste collection and dismantling is a relatively small-scale industry in SA and is limited by the lack of public awareness, public perception of costly and once-valuable devices, as well as the risk associated with data leakage from disused electronic storage devices (Finlay, 2005). Whilst both formal and informal operators exist in the industry, they are constrained in terms of legislation, poor infrastructure, skills-shortage and trade regulations. This study aims to evaluate the existing e-waste industry in SA and its potential to harness economic opportunities for metal recovery in localised downstream processing. Additionally, recommendations will be made to unlock economic opportunities and further the sustainable e-waste management agenda. Data collection and validation is being carried out through various site visits, company reports and interviews with stakeholders along the e-waste recycling value chain.
Due to the fact that this is a relatively new industry in SA, it has not sufficiently matured to support sustainable development. This will require collaboration and transparency across formal and informal sectors; promotion of a recycling culture and increased public awareness; skills development and training; as well as allowing industry operators to participate in and contribute to policy reform and implementation.