MTN, German agency to tackle e-waste

1 March 2011

South African-based mobile operator MTN Group is partnering with German public-benefit enterprise Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to manage the safe disposal of electronic waste and foster enterprise development for e-waste handlers in South Africa.

GIZ signed the partnership with MTN on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) last week. GIZ, which has previous experience with e-waste management through partnerships in India and Morocco, will bring its experience, knowledge base and technical support to this partnership.

The partnership seeks to raise awareness among the general public and corporate businesses about the safe recycling, management and disposal of e-waste, and provide support to fledgling small and medium-sized companies.

Educating the public

The pilot project, to be first implemented in South Africa, will focus on educating the public about what e-waste is, why it is a matter of human health and environmental concern, and the value of recycling and responsible disposal.

“We believe that this partnership will help us to increase public awareness about the problem of e-waste and provide assurance to MTN that e-waste is being handled appropriately locally in line with acceptable standards,” said MTN executive Christian de Faria in a statement.

“Addressing the e-waste challenge remains one of MTN’s top three sustainability imperatives, as required by and approved by MTN’s leadership.”

As part of the pilot project, MTN South Africa will roll out e-waste collection points at key publicly-accessible sites such as schools, shopping malls and possibly in partnership with other corporate partners. These collection points will collect cellular e-waste regardless of network operator or handset manufacturer.

For its part, GIZ will undertake a situational analysis, develop standards and disposal protocols for the piloting model and undertaking a multi-stakeholder engagement process.

Enterprise development, green jobs

The partnership will also support enterprise development and the “green jobs” agenda by ensuring that selected small and medium sized e-waste handlers and large recyclers receive a steady, consistent and sizeable supply of e-waste.

These recyclers will be monitored by MTN South Africa to ensure that they abide by approved and acceptable e-waste handling processes and protocols.

Subject to a successful multi-year South African pilot, it is hoped that results and lessons learnt will be documented and replicated by MTN operations across the Africa and the Middle East.

“Partnering with the private sector to address developmental issues such as e-waste is a crucial component of GIZ strategy for sustainable development,” said GIZ coordinator Ellen Kallinowsky. “E-waste is a growing challenge in South Africa and Africa and if not jointly addressed from both the public and private sectors will become an overwhelming challenge.”

Increasing health concern

Electronic waste or e-waste is any form of electrical or electronic technology that is no longer required, ranging from domestic and commercial “white goods” such as fridges and air conditioners, to computers, phones and other electrical and electronic devices.

As global consumption of electrical devices grow, and products become obsolete, the challenge of how to responsibly dispose of e-waste is growing alarmingly.

Global mismanagement of e-waste is resulting in large-scale dumping, often in open landfills, predominantly in areas or countries with poor levels of environmental governance or enforcement ability.

There is increasing concern at the growth of e-waste generated by global consumers, and ultimately often dumped, especially in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Valuable components are salvaged from discarded e-waste, but at the cost of human and environmental health, given some degree of toxicity of in all electronic components.

SAinfo reporter

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