End of the Line

There are a couple of problems every e-waste recycler faces.

Where to source recyleable materials? How to process things safely? What happens to the bits? Every recycler passes on the bits to specialists - whether it's paper, circuit boards, glass... unless they have the specialized mechanisms in place to turn waste into a new product themselves.

When you're at the end of a product's lifecycle, you're very much aware of what it's made of. It's amazing how many small screws, bits of glass or plastic, unexpected circuit boards and other paraphanalia turn up in absolutely everything!

Here in South Africa, recycling is still a relatively new field. E-waste recycling even more so. Where some overseas countries have the regulations, the processes, the support all in place, here we struggle on with dead ends and red tape, certain items piling up unwanted, others simply becoming uneconomical to work with.

The biggest problem most of us face is Plastic. Specifically ABS plastic. In the Western Cape there are 2 companies that say they can process this - but unfortunately both of them currently don't. There used to be an organization that creatively turned this plastic into roof tiles - but then closed. And us e-waste processors have had to make other plans.

But what happens when you reach the end of the line - no more places available to take ABS and turn it into something else, you certainly can't do so yourself, and it just starts piling up?

Overseas, yet again the innovation is flowing.

This guy mixed chopped up plastic with cement to make concrete. There's a company that makes similar products and calls them PlasCrete.

But here in SA? Nope. No-one who has the machinery to process bigger bits into smaller bits is remotely interested in giving it a shot. The government is trying to build houses en mass - why wouldn't a product like this appeal to them? Or to anyone in these tough times wanting to build a strong, lighter-than-plain-concrete structure?

The same company that make PlasCrete have also turned ABS into pothole filler. We all know Africa is FULL of huge holes in the road - this is the perfect stuff to throw into them! But no, again no-one seems to want to dip their toes into the innovation pool and try something new.

Then there's the plastic-to-fuel folk. Way-out idea, sure, but hey - it apparently works. And with the entire planet running out of oil in the not too distant future, it's definitely worth a second look.

The great thing with these options is that plastic does not have to be as thoroughly cleaned as traditionally required when recycling it. If there are bits of metal (screws, supports, springs etc) that you missed left mixed in with the plastic, it doesn't matter. If there is a label or a piece of paper, also OK. It doesn't take the intense human effort and manpower to sort out or clean - it's simply chop and go. Things like PlasCrete don't even require any extra equipment to mix or make - it's the same process as adding aggregate before forming the end product.

As an e-waste recycler it's incredibly frustrating that no-one in South Africa has taken up this torch and run with it. There is a HUGE need for ABS and "other" plastics to be turned into something else, to be recycled instead of going discarded or unused.

If only someone would step up and do it.