Africa is often a dumping ground for developed-nation e-waste, to the detriment of the environment and communities. AST Recycling has the ability to manage the e-waste recycling process on the continent in compliance with global standards and ethical considerations.
Under the guise of “charitable donations” the developed world has been dumping its e-waste in Africa for some time. By passing on dated IT equipment to schools and businesses on the continent, developed nation businesses are shifting the responsibility for ethical handling of e-waste to countries that are not equipped to deal with it.
“Most businesses globally are purchasing or importing goods that are manufactured in the developed world. Developing countries are far behind in their e-waste management strategies, but many of these goods find their way into these nations, where they eventually fall out of use and become hazardous waste,” says Malcolm Whitehouse, the general manager and compliance officer of AST Recycling.
He explains that e-waste is not simply made up of harmless plastics and metals, but can, in many instances be comprised of harmful substances such as lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). An added complication, Whitehouse says, is that many e-waste products also contain valuable secondary resource metals such as iron, steel, copper, palladium, gold, silver and platinum, which makes it worthwhile to strip out these components, without responsibly managing the disposal of the rest.
“The informal methodologies adopted in much of Africa at present are crude, dangerous to human and environmental health, and pose a severe risk to society,” he says.
However, the expertise to manage a complete e-waste process that reuses or repurposes secondary resource materials, extracts the valuable components and then responsibly disposes of any harmful materials, does exist on the continent, if companies and governments only know where to look.
South Africa’s AST Recycling has, in recognition of the need for e-waste recycling solutions that track IT equipment throughout its lifecycle, recently launched an IT Asset Management (ITAM) division. The company engages with global producers and OEMs to offer formal solutions that are reliable, compliant and practice methodologies and procedures based on global best practice, even if those are not required by law in each specific country on the African continent. The company adheres to the highest global standards and holds ISO 9001:2015, 14001:2015 and 27001 certifications for data destruction and environmentally responsible recycling.
Between the company’s three directors – Whitehouse, Rodney Peters, Head of ITAM and ITAD, and Daniel Ngwenya, the CEO – they have over 60 years’ combined experience in the ethical managing and recycling of waste, and the tracking of IT assets.
“We created the company out of the desire to clean up our environment,” says Daniel Ngwenya, the CEO of AST Recycling. “We aim to offer solutions to all users and consumers of electronic waste and help them to contribute to Africa’s green economy. In doing so, we are paving the way for the informal sector to embrace and benefit from our business. The company is also committed to supporting the circular economy and cleaning up the environment through its efforts to divert e-waste from landfill. Together with its clients and partners, AST Recycling has diverted 56 240 tons of e-waste from landfill across South Africa. They have a strong presence in four additional African countries – Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The Zambian operation is a prime example of AST Recycling’s approach to the broader benefits of recycling, over and above landfill diversion. There TCH Recycling, AST Recycling’s local branch, engages with the community and business to bring old equipment in for recycling. The project then provides jobs for young people who would otherwise be unemployed, while ensuring that harmful components are not entering landfills and ultimately the environment, and that the rest are reused, tracking all components every step of the way.
Whitehouse points out that reusing electronic products significantly supports the circular economy, by helping to avoid depleting raw materials, and recovering and reusing secondary resource materials and products at the end of their useful life.
“We have both the expertise and the experience to deliver these kinds of IT and e-waste management solutions on the African continent, ensuring that from both an environmental and compliance perspective, the procedures in place are on par with those required in the developed world,” says Whitehouse. “This is not something we can compromise on as the untracked, unmanaged alternative, results in harm to the environment and communities, in nations where such incidents are far harder to recover from.”