Making real change to the e-waste challenge

Published Jul 3, 2024


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 $339 billion, anticipated to reach $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.

However, despite this increase, the global population “consumed more than 500 billion tons 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).

At ERA we believe 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 about 2.5 billion kg 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.

Fortunately, there are organisations making inroads into addressing the challenge. ERA is a relatively new Producer Responsibility Organisation that operates an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme for its member companies and has had some early, inspiring results.

Through and alongside ERA, 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 Children 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 been working with ERA from inception, and 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 Technologies uses recovered e-waste to make parts for new devices and has saved 443 000 pounds of plastics from the ocean, globally. Dell Technologies has also partnered with ERA to address the e-waste challenge on the continent with circular economy priorities.

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 activewear 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, and 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 9.5 million kilograms 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.

These are just some of the brands taking the circular economy seriously. 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.

At ERA, we believe that a consistent commitment to the green economy is starting to show dividends. We have developed amazing working relationships with several e-waste recyclers, we have prioritised sustainable solutions, and paid attention to consumer education.

In 2023, ERA collected and processed 10 741 986kg of e-waste – an impressive 22% of the total e-waste collection target for the entire country as set by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE).

Learn more about the electronic waste public awareness campaign ERA is currently running – watch the educational videos featuring the rugby Springboks here or visit the campaign website