"Few people know that computers, cellphones, LCD screens and other appliances containing electrically-powered components, broadly classified as electronic waste when they are discarded, contain harmful materials and precious metals which require special handling and recycling. In essence, they are potentially environmentally hazardous and must be dumped responsibly," says Du Chenne.
While there is no generally accepted definition of electronic waste, often it is associated with relatively expensive and essentially durable products used for data processing, telecommunications or entertainment in private households and businesses (www.e-waste.org.za).
"As a rule of thumb, electronic waste might be the type of electronic equipment you once considered valuable enough to insure. Like your big screen TV, your LDC screen, your top of the range cellphone, your fridge and your laptop," quips Du Chenne
He says that electronic waste - or e-waste for short - poses a significant waste disposal problem for South African society.
"If you just think of the sheer number of cellphones that are in circulation in this country and consider that each one has an average lifespan of 18 months to two years before they are replaced by an upgrade, you can imagine just how many millions of cellphones, many still in perfect working order, are dumped each year. This is on top of the mountains of obsolete computers, televisions, fridges and other electronic appliances which are discarded annually.
"Aside from issue of finding the extra landfill space required to accommodate these growing masses of waste, there's the issue of the damaging effect on the environment of some of the harmful materials and substances found in discarded electronics such as arsenic (used in some semi-conductors), brominated compounds, CFC foams and lead amongst others," he says, adding that a study in the USA showed that about 2% of municipal waste is made up of e-waste.
"Other US-based research estimates that e-waste is growing at a rate three times faster than any other waste stream," adds Du Chenne
Of particular concern is the lead in e-waste. A typical 17-inch computer monitor contains approximately 2.2 pounds of lead. Lead is a toxic substance, which may cause lead poisoning and can be especially harmful to young children
So what can consumers do about it?
"Preventing waste in the first place is the preferred management option. This can be achieved through repairing or upgrading old equipment rather than prematurely trading it in for newer models. Another good option is to recycle by making use of take back programmes. Through recycling, valuable materials such as silver, gold and lead can be extracted and other components can be safely recycled. You might even consider donating old cell phones and electronics that can still be used to charities.
"Consumers must be mindful of the hazards e-waste and investigate their options for the safe disposal of electronics they no longer use. The last resort should be to dump such items with other household waste to be land filled.
"If you are not sure of how to dispose of household appliances and electronics, contact your local municipality to find out where your nearest e-waste disposal site is or search the internet," advises Du Chenne, adding that the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) website, www.e-waste.org.za, is an excellent source of information about how to get rid of your old electric or electronic equipment, where you can dispose it and how it is recycled.