A complex environment, new products and changing consumer preferences are all part of the challenge of recycling electronic and electrical equipment, according to leading e-scrap experts.
That challenge was considered by the two guest speakers at an e-scrap session at the latest BIR convention. Marc Affüpper, coo of TSR Recycling in Germany, told the online session that a number of drivers were needed to boost recycling including: global co-operation of individual governments; enforcement of regulations; an improved image of the industry; and honest dialogue and partnerships with the raw materials industry, manufacturers and recyclers.
Affüpper said recycling processes would need to become more sophisticated to cope with product changes. For example, the average content of plastics in small domestic appliances had increased from under 20% in 2013 to nearer 30% in 2020. Over the same period, average metal content had dropped from 45% to around 30%. ‘It’s not enough just to use a magnet to recover the metal,’ he asserted.
Changing consumer habits meant that people were disposing of their e-products much more quickly than they used to – and the waste mix was profoundly different: in 1990 a person would have owned personal equipment such as TVs, hi-fi and computers totalling 50-60 kg. Today they might be using only a tablet and phone – weighing less than a kilogram. However, the range of items that will become e-scrap has boomed.
‘This is a stable and sustainable business sector as long as the legal frameworks support it. I don’t see a flood of e-scrap but it is an increasing market.’
Klaus Hieronymi, general manager of the European Recycling Platform, considered the likely impact of the European Green Deal which he said promised to disrupt existing business models for electronics by creating an extended circular economy built around repair, reuse and remanufacturing. Citing the benefits, Hieronymi said the carbon footprint of remanufacturing a laptop was only a quarter of that of a new product.
Such a revolution would create greater demand for recycled materials and a corresponding requirement for suppliers to certify recycled content across all material streams.
‘Producers will not achieve carbon footprint or circular economy goals without entering massively into the second hand market for products and parts,’ he said. Such changes would encourage manufacturers ‘to keep their arms around their products’ through buy-back and sourcing of parts. Harvesting of spare parts therefore represented a big opportunity for the recycling sector, Hieronymi insisted.