To the University of the Western Cape (UWC)
Research topic: Increased value participation of small and informal actors through the establishment of governmental policy – The case of e-waste in South Africa.
Hello everybody! My name is Andreas Bracht and I’m in the process of completing my master in Geography with a focus on Economic Geography. As part of my final thesis, I conducted fieldwork in the electronic waste sector in South Africa. I was based in Cape Town, however, I was able to speak to various actors along the value chain in the whole country.
While South Africa has not yet reached levels of informal e-waste recycling like often referred-to case studies like China or Ghana, it is experiencing high levels of informal ‘waste picking’. Additionally, the government is still struggling to implement binding policies in the formal recycling of obsolete electronic appliances. My research objectives therefore were to draw an overall picture of the e-waste value chain in South Africa, the distinctions between formal and informal actors and the possibility of governmental policies to increase value participation for informal workers.
My preliminary research results showed that the informal economy is widely participating in electronic waste activities via reuse, refurbishment and recycling. Yet, through difficulties to reach them as they have to create livelihoods and alternating local power structures, establish national measurements appears to be difficult.
Likewise, the formal recycling industry is challenged by not accessible potential, insufficient monitoring and compliance as well as a general lack of awareness.
The South African per-capita-generation of e-waste lies over the global average. Therefore, the case study shows the challenges of an ecological sound, politically motivated and social-acceptable approach within economic development of an “Emerging Market” in the Global South.
With my research, I hope to add to discussion of e-waste as a part of Global Value Chains with a special focus on the often-overseen role of the informal economy. In fact, in the case of South Africa, a lot of Waste Management would not be able without the critical contribution of the informal workers who often struggle with marginalization, vulnerability and stigmatization.
With the funding DAAD Network “Remapping the Global South”, as was able to speak with various stakeholders in the sector from May to July 2018, for which I am very thankful for. A lot of people have been very kind to me and helped me to broaden my knowledge within the sector and the overall challenges of waste management in Southern Africa. Thanks in large parts to Mrs Rinie Schenk from the UWC and Nate Millington from the African Center for Cities at the University of Cape Town (UCT), I was able to present my preliminary findings at a workshop and the UCT, which was an incredible chance to discuss my ideas with experts in the field and also a fruitful ground for possible following networks. As the DAAD Network also funded this opportunity, I owe them even more.
I would also like to say thank you to my supervisor Mr Revilla Diez as well as the many interview partners in South Africa, who shared their views on the topic with me and often made time for me in a busy daily schedule.