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Hardware Opinion South Africa

EXCLUSIVE: Making real change to the e-waste challenge

Investing into the circular economy is more than just a way of boosting a brand’s reputation. With the global revenue from circular economy transactions currently exceeding $339bn, anticipated to more than double to $712.74bn in the next two years, investment into innovative recycle, use and reuse programmes has become a mark of good business as well as a business doing good.
Ashley du Plooy, CEO at E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA).
Ashley du Plooy, CEO at E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA).

However, despite this increase the global population consumed more than 500 billion tonnes of materials over the past six years which was more than the volume used throughout the entirety of the 20th century.

This is clearly not sustainable, and sustainability has to become a goal shared by all corporate citizens, particularly within the technology industry.

The world, says the UN, is losing the battle against electronic waste with more than 62 million metric tons dumped in just one year (2024).

It is critical that change happens across the world, but particularly in Africa which has been used as a dumping ground for old electronics.

In 2020, authorities in Spain uncovered a network that was shipping around 2,500,000,000kg of e-waste to the continent across Durban, Bizerte and Lagos.

The challenge lies in not just preventing the illegal disposal of e-waste, but also in ensuring that existing e-waste is recycled properly.

We need to be cognisant of the challenges the materials used to create electronic and electrical products pose when they reach their end of life.

Turning the e-waste tide

Fortunately, there are organisations making inroads into addressing the challenge. Producer Responsibility Organisations like ERA that operate Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme for its member companies have had some inspiring results.

Some of South Africa’s electronic and electrical equipment producers are prioritising green and circular economy practices in ways that are unique and transformative.

A great example of this is the recent Dell Technologies 'Childrens vs Champions' campaign with the Springbok Rugby team.

The campaign is bringing environmental awareness to people across all age groups in an inspiring and engaging way.

This type of engagement from local organisations highlights and endorses the narrative that the proper disposal of e-waste is an urgent matter and is aimed at changing consumer behaviours and expectations.

Across different sectors and industries, increasing numbers of retailers and manufacturers are taking responsibility for their goods when they reach the end of their life.

For example, the ICT sector has demonstrated impressive maturity and forward-thinking. These efforts are changing the face of retail while educating customers on their role in reducing waste.

Dell Technologies: sustainability in technology

Dell Technologies has been paying attention to the sustainability conversation for a while. They ship products with 100% recycled or renewable packaging and several of their laptop ranges are designed with 25% recycled materials that include plastics, glass and aluminium.

The company has invested in the circular economy across multiple levels that include IT procurement and supply chains.

Dell uses recovered e-waste to make parts for new devices and has saved over 200 tons of plastics from the ocean, globally.

Lindström: reducing textile waste

The textile service company recently won the Circular Economy Pioneer Award at the 2023 Sustainable Business Awards (SBA) because it has prioritised the reuse of textiles and its goal of recycling 100% of its textile waste by 2025.

The company has also recently partnered with Nalco Water to reduce the use of fresh water in its plants, achieving 74% in water recovery and a 56% reduction in freshwater usage.

Nike and Adidas: taking sports towards sustainability

Both of these leading active wear brands are committed to cutting down on their contributions to waste.

Way back in 2017, Adidas prioritised the replacement of virgin polyester with recycled polyester in its products and achieved the impressive total of 99% by 2023 – the company is now focused on only using recycled polyester as of the end of 2024.

Nike launched its Space Hippie collection, a range of shoes comprised of plastic bottles, industrial scraps and t-shirts (up to 90%), and has managed to eliminate almost 9,500,000kg of waste by removing toe stuffing in packaging.

Patagonia: protecting the great outdoors

Patagonia has been prioritising the creation of environmentally friendly climbing products ever since the founder of the company found out how they damaged the environment.

The company is comprehensively committed to the circular economy with investment into efficient water usage, renewable energy, and recycling and reusing.

Different industries making commitments

There’s also Lego, famous for its use of plastics, prioritising research into the use of alternative materials such as sugar cane and wood so it can make its products completely sustainable by 2030.

Ikea has its take-back programme that allows for customers to return their furniture for repurposing or recycling; Unilever uses ethically-sourced palm oil; and H&M has initiated a clothing collection programme so people can return clothes for recycling and repurposing.

As companies become more engaged in change, it has become increasingly important to get consumers on board so that millions of tons of waste are drastically reduced and reused for the health of people and the planet.

About Ashley du Plooy

Ashley du Plooy is CEO at E-Waste Recycling Authority (ERA).
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