IERC 2018: Industry discussed the future of E-waste recycling

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Prof. Li and Roger Burri (Foto: ICM AG)

Salzburg — Who will benefit the most from the increasing volume of electrical and electronic scrap worldwide in the future? This was one of the central questions that industry representatives discussed at this year’s IERC 2018 as part of a panel discussion. The round table concluded a two-day conference programme covering all aspects of E-waste recycling – from current market developments and new technological trends to new legal frameworks and specific country reports.

Stephan Schwarz (ALBA International Recycling), Professor Jinhui Li (Tsinghua University, China), Stuart Fleming (EnviroServe) and Steve Skurnac (Sims Recycling Solutions) took part in the panel discussion.

Right technology and sufficient waste volumes

Stephan Schwarz explained that some recycling companies have benefited from substandard recycling activities. In many cases, waste has shipped to developing countries and as a result in this way, large profits were achieved. However, Schwarz believes that these cases will decrease. The E-waste market has become very dynamic. Products have become increasingly powerful and complex, but also smaller and less valuable. The classic recycling strategy of recovering valuables, mostly metals, will no longer work, the ALBA representative said. Handpicking in developing countries will also no longer produce enough valuable substances.

Instead, new recycling technologies and increasingly automated processes are needed. However, it is not only important for the right technology, but also for access to sufficient waste volumes. According to Schwarz, those who can meet both these requirements have a good chance of being among the winners in the E-waste market.

OEMs will be the winners

Stuart Fleming took a different view of things. The CEO of the E-waste recycler EnviroServe expects that the OEMs will be the winners. But only on the condition that they are clever enough to take over E-waste recycling companies so that they can harvest the raw materials at reduced rates. In this scenario, he suggests, that the OEM will invest some of the extra margin they return into research and development on sustainable practices.

The situation is changing in China

Professor Jinhui Li sees the development in a similar way. In the past, informal recycling has benefited from the increases in volume, he explained. Nevertheless, this form of recycling, in the past, has led to serious environmental and human health disasters in developing countries. The situation is changing now with the strengthening of the legislation system and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). At least in China, the producer of electrical appliances will be among the winners, he said, because the levy paid for electronics placed on the market by producers is much less than the subsidy paid from government to recyclers within the WEEE regulation system.

To partner with the entire circular supply chain

According to Steve Skurnac the ever increasing volumes of E-waste present both opportunity and risk for recyclers and producers alike. Ever changing material composition and shrinking product size coupled with higher collection costs means that e-recycling will become much more local in many jurisdictions, he explained. In countries without well developed regulations or collection mechanisms this means that recyclers will need to put in significant resources to help develop the markets. In more advanced regions the declining material value and smaller products suggest more hands on processing rather than larger mechanical solutions for initial material sourcing. “The future winners will be companies that partner effectively with the entire circular supply chain to optimize collections, efficiently process material and find sustainable homes for the recovered commodities”, he said.

The IERC 2018 took place this year from 17 to 19 January. Around 480 experts from 42 different countries took part in the congress. In this way, the IERC has again underscored its significance as one of the leading congresses in the field of electrical and electronics recycling worldwide.

Source: ICM AG