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e-Waste dumps have become a massive threat to society

20 May 2014, 08:46

Electric and electronic systems have been playing an increasingly important role in all aspects of technology for well over half a century. Microchips, which are central to the development of electronic systems, have experienced such rapid development that users are currently able to purchase a new computer every 18 months with twice the computing power for the same price.  As the general populations’ access to consumer electrical goods and mobile phones increase, the discarding of old electronic items has increased at an equally rapid rate.  This cycle has made the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) the fastest growing waste stream in South Africa.

Once electronic devices reach the end of their useful life, they become electronic waste (e-waste). Electronic waste include equipment such as household appliances, information and telecommunications equipment, lighting, television sets, DVD’s, computers, refrigerators, washing machines, printers, storage devices, toys, and medical devices, to name a few.  Substantial levels of WEEE recycling are taking place both in the formal and informal, unmonitored sectors. The Department of Environmental Affairs in its 2010 findings, reported that basic environmental precautions were absent at some recyclers, and health and safety regulations loosely enforced. Most recyclers interviewed for this assessment were also not ISO compliant.

 As a result, e-waste dumps have become a massive threat.  In addition to its damaging effect on the environment, researchers have linked e-waste to radical effects on human health, such as inflammation and oxidative stress, cardiac disease, DNA damage and possibly cancer. This is especially the case with household streams, as they are generally dumped in local landfills- exposing both surrounding humans and the environment to the harmful chemicals they release.

There is a great need to institute regulations of handling e-waste in the recycling stream, so that many of these health issues could be alleviated. Recycling raw materials from end-of-life electronics is the most effective solution to the growing electronic waste challenge.  Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals that can be recovered for future uses. 

Ripplebrooke Investments have embarked on a project which aims to develop a hydrometallurgical process for the recovery of various metal products from typical pre-treated circuit boards, in a manner that is both environmentally acceptable and economically feasible. 

Ripplebrooke Investments appointed Classical Environmental Management Services (CEMS) to undertake the Waste Management license application, the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Environmental Management Plan.

From the valuation, CEMS’ findings were that the application for the environmental and waste management authorisations were for the implementation of a small scale Discarded Electronics Utilisation Pilot Plant. The Spent Auto Catalyst Utilisation Pilot Plant was used to test, fine tune and demonstrate the recently developed hydrometallurgical process for the recovery of various metal products, from the discarded electronic scrap and spent automotive catalysts.

Due to the industrial nature of the surrounding land, use of the site specifically; and the inherent nature of the new technological process implemented at the proposed Discarded Electronics Utilisation Pilot Plant and Spent Auto Catalyst Utilisation Pilot Plant -it is expected that the proposed project will have the following impact, significant for the duration of the operational life of the Electronic Waste Use Pilot Plant:

·         no impact on the current land use, soil erosion, geology, site ecology, cultural and historical features; and visual effects

·         minor or low negative impact in terms of soil contamination, noise, water pollution, dust and vehicle emissions; traffic and service infrastructure

·         moderate negative impact in terms of atmospheric emissions; and

·         a high positive impact in terms of socio-economic aspects and reducing quantities of electronic scrap that is being  disposed of in existing land-fill sites, by metal extraction and product recycling

CEMS provided Ripplebrooke Investments with an Environmental Management Plan, required to be implemented throughout the construction and operational phases of the proposed development.  Although it is unlikely, should the plant require closure, the Environmental Management Plan has also provided a termination procedure to follow.

Through the commissioning and implementation of Environmental Impact Assessments, Environmental, Health and Safety Management Plans; and Waste Management, Ripplebrooke Investmentsare the fore-runners in this new eco-friendly development.

End.

Issued by

Naledi Masopha- Media Relations

Sennergi Media

nmasopha@gmail.com

Contact person

Christine Kneidinger

Classical Environmental Management Services

chris@classicalems.co.za

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