Applying circular initiative to e-waste solutions
In order to tackle South Africa’s rising e-waste challenge, key local and international stakeholders have joined forces to launch an ambitious project which is set to bring about economic opportunities while ensuring workable and safe solutions for the management of e-waste.
Rooted in the global Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) programme (2020 – 2023), the local chapter of the SRI project aims to build capacity for sustainable e-waste recycling, by supporting related national initiatives and implementing pilot ventures. The SRI project in South Africa involves various stakeholders including The Appliance Bank (TAB), a training programme for unemployed men that gives them the technical skills needed to repair damaged and customer- returned small appliances.
In support of the circular economy, TAB prevents damaged appliances from being disposed of in landfills.
Job creator assisting in training
TAB came onboard to create training materials which will support the collaboration and help scale the intended impact of the SRI project in South Africa. The pilot project is kicking off in iLembe, KwaZulu-Natal which will see TAB working with waste pickers and providing technical appliance repair training.
Commenting on the initiative Tracey Gilmore, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of TAB says, “We are extremely excited to be onboard and honoured that the SRI team reached out to us to join the conversation and be part of this wonderful initiative. South Africa can only benefit from projects like the SRI that will create a more inclusive economy and contribute to sustainable growth.”
Bringing new opportunities for sustainable economic growth
The SRI project South Africa is part of the global SRI 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 was implemented between 2013 – 2018 and is now in its second phase (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, the SRI programme strives for an inclusive approach of enabling beneficial economic conditions for both the formal industry stakeholders and the informal sector. Therefore, the programme 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 SRI 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).
Key outcomes and deliverables envisaged for South Africa
The national SRI project team aims to develop an e-waste policy (on national and local level), define minimum working conditions for the formal e-waste value chain partners, and facilitate strategic informal sector integration. It will also assist with the development of both auditing skills and capacity to assess e-waste value chain operators and oversee the development of a national e-waste learner curriculum.
The pilot project in iLembe will see the team work with the informal waste sector to collect e-waste via a newly developed app.
South Africa among the most guilty of e-waste pollution on African continent
E-waste is the fastest-growing domestic waste stream in the world. According to the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWasa), each individual in South Africa generates about 6.2kg of e-waste and the Department of Environmental Affairs estimates an annual national tally of 360 000 tonnes. 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 weak South African economy.
One man’s waste is another man’s gold
TAB, which forms part of the award-winning non-profit organisation, The Clothing Bank (TCB), provides a two-year training programme for unemployed men to establish their own sustainable businesses. The men, most of whom are fathers, repair the donated household appliances and sell them for a profit in their communities.
Last year, TAB had 89 active businessmen who sold goods for a profit of R5,4 million and around 22 000 units / e-waste materials were recycled. Piloted in 2015 as a result of a strategic partnership with The Clicks Group, TAB has grown to have operations in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
TAB provides beneficiaries with extensive financial, business and life-skills training, as well as coaching and mentoring to help them on their journey to self-determination. In 2018, the TAB programme formalised its technical training and developed a comprehensive modular-based curriculum covering all aspects related to electricity and appliance repair. “Apart from all the research learnings we will obtain from the SRI project, it provides an essential platform to build on our programme through improving our training material, continuing our contribution to improving our country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and aiding job creation,” concludes Gilmore.
Johannesburg is threatening to sideline informal waste pickers. Why this is a bad idea
Like all cities in the world, Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital, has a waste management problem. In 2018/19, more than 290 000 tons of waste was illegally dumped in neighbourhoods across the city. Illegal dumping will likely increase, as the four legal landfills will be full in less than three years. Various efforts have been made over the years to try and manage the problems better. A contentious, and politically sensitive issue in all of these efforts has been the role of waste reclaimers, the informal actors who earn a living by salvaging and selling recyclables.
Like their counterparts across the country, reclaimers in Johannesburg play a crucial role in waste management and recycling. According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, reclaimers collect 80%-90% of all used packaging and paper that is recycled. They also save municipalities up to R748 million a year in landfill space. Without them, South Africa’s recycling economy would not exist, and Johannesburg’s landfills would have closed long ago.
Pikitup, the private company created by the City to provide municipal waste management services, only started promoting recycling just over a decade ago. Instead of partnering with the real recycling experts, reclaimers, Pikitup designs charity-style projects for them and gives the official recycling work to unemployed people with no experience in the sector and private companies.
In mid-2018, Pikitup started a separation at source pilot project that pays two private companies to collect recyclables separated from trash by residents in some suburbs.
But evidence from my three-year research project shows that Pikitup’s pilot has failed to collect significant amounts of recyclables. It has also been far from cost-effective. And it has profoundly negative consequences for reclaimers.
There are approximately 8000 reclaimers in Johannesburg. Some have been collecting recyclables for more than 30 years and there are families with several generations of reclaimers.
Working with 13 post-graduate students, my research project interviewed and surveyed reclaimers, residents and officials to see how they were affected by Pikitup’s recycling programmes between 2016 and 2019.
We found that Pikitup’s pilot had a number of negative consequences.
As the contracted companies started collecting the same materials that reclaimers depended on, reclaimers struggled to access recyclables, which decreased their incomes. It also led to increased harassment as reclaimers were accused by residents and security of “stealing” Pikitup’s bags.
The pilot also made life harder for reclaimers in other ways. They had to start sleeping in suburban parks to get to the materials before the private recycling trucks arrived, as otherwise there would be nothing to collect and their children would go hungry.
Poor track record
Pikitup’s approach to recycling has a poor track record.
In 2018/2019, the most recent year for which Pikitup has released complete data, Pikitup planned to collect 50 000 tonnesof recyclables. It then lowered the goal to 32 550 tonnes, but still missed this new target by about 6500 tonnes.
In the first 12 months of Pikitup’s separation at source pilot – which the levy is set to expand – an internal Pikitup presentation reported that Pikitup diverted only 27 277 tonnes of recyclables.
This is only a fraction of what reclaimers divert in a year. Data from a “resident-reclaimer” recycling pilot project led by the African Reclaimers Organisation in two Johannesburg suburbs shows that participating reclaimers collect an average of 128.18 kgs per day. If the City’s approximately 8000 reclaimers salvage similar amounts, they need a mere 27 days to divert as many tonnes of recyclables as Pikitup did in the first year of the City’s pilot.
While the companies in Pikitup’s pilot only collect bags of separated materials, reclaimers in the African Reclaimers Organisation pilot do the same, but also continue to salvage recyclables from rubbish bins. They do this because many residents still throw away recyclables. As a result, reclaimers provide a more effective service, because they ensure that recyclables that residents put in the trash don’t end up at landfills. And they do it for free.
Pikitup’s pilot has a number of inbuilt inefficiencies. For example, Pikitup pays the private contractors between approximately R20 – R25 per household per month to collect separated recyclables. The companies are paid even if a household does not put out a bag of recyclables or a reclaimer collects the bag. The reclaimer is not paid anything.
As Pikitup expands its pilot, the private companies will get the cleanest materials. More reclaimers will lose access to bins, and the recyclables in those bins will end up at landfills.
This is not just bad for reclaimers. It is bad for the environment as landfills will fill up faster and more virgin materials will be used to produce new products. While the companies use trucks to collect recyclables, reclaimers’ trolleys are a low carbon alternative.
A more sensible approach
It makes more sense to pay reclaimers to collect recyclables as is done in cities in Colombia, India, and Brazil. The African Reclaimers Organisation pilot has shown that reclaimers can provide an efficient, effective, low-carbon service that positively transforms relationships between residents and reclaimers.
Prior to the pandemic, reclaimers in this pilot were paid a service fee based on the kilograms of recyclables collected.
More than 2 400 residents have signed the African Reclaimers Organisation’s petition that calls on the municipality to stop the R50 levy and create a reclaimer-based recycling system through consultation with reclaimers.
It is time the city recognised reclaimers’ central role in Johannesburg’s recycling economy and work with reclaimers to build on what exists to create a recycling system appropriate for the South African context. Expanding African Reclaimers Organisation’s pilot would be a great way to start.
Courtesy: The ConversationView more
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Circular economy businesses outperform traditional competitors
With the concept of ‘circular business model’ still new, many are asking if it is necessary? And how does it differ from a linear economy?
Research undertaken by global consultancy Kearney has revealed that leaders who applied the same circular initiatives into their business models are outperforming traditional rivals.
“Is it necessary? Short answer is yes,” explains Prashaen Reddy, energy and process industries specialist partner at Kearney. “Our demand and needs are starting to outweigh our current resources. Circular economy comes down to the way we transform the way we do business, create goods and services to preserve the world around us.”
A linear economy is characterized by unsustainable processes, excessive pollution and resource scarcity as raw materials are mined, processed into a product, and then thrown away. To help ensure a future where there are enough raw materials and other necessities, all businesses will need to shift and create an economy that becomes circular. In this kind of practice, circular economy redefines economic growth moving away from a ‘take-make-waste model to one that aims at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.
The South African government has implemented this new movement into different sectors of our economy, for example the introduction of the South African (SA) Renewable energy IPP Procurement programme. This tender process was designed and implemented to facilitate private sector investment into grid-connected renewable energy generation in SA.
In the budget speech delivered in February this year, government spoke to three energy projects that have been gazetted which will be supported through private sector investment to the value of R52.4-billion.
In September last year, the second big circular economy initiative saw cabinet approve the National Waste Management Strategy 2020 which aims at promoting the waste hierarchy and circular economy principles while achieving both socio-economic benefits and the reduction of negative environmental impacts.
Simply put, a circular economy is achieved by implementing the 3R approach: reduce, reuse, and recycle which is built on three key principles:
1. Design out waste and pollution.
2. Keep products and materials in use.
3. Regenerate natural systems.
Reddy continues, stating that the data from their survey comes at a critical time when the world is facing a rising resource scarcity and waste problem. Currently, over 100-billion tons of materials are processed every year and over 91% of these materials are newly extracted from the ground.
Applying such models has shown it can improve and increase our natural resources and help to decrease waste, plus have a positive effect on business output and profits.
The survey of 150 companies across the globe reveals the benefits of those who are engaging with circular economy models, with 34% of those surveyed, defined by Kearney as circular leaders, reporting a 5% or more improvement in core KPIs as a result of switching to circular products and business models.
In this group, 32% of respondents reported revenue increases, 38% reported cost savings benefits, 50% reported improvement in customer loyalty metrics and 70% an improvement in brand recognition. The survey also shows that it is possible to successfully implement circular strategies irrespective of industry and company size.
“We (Kearney) started measuring our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and offset unavoidable emissions over 10 years ago, supporting projects like hydropower and waste gas recovery. We have also prioritized the increase in the use of renewable energy in our offices and have set a goal to be at 80 percent renewable energy by 2025 and at 100 percent by 2030,” adds Reddy.
In the Fourth Industrial Age, it pays to be sustainable, and those who persist with the unsustainable “take-make-waste” economy will inevitably start to lag behind.
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