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Industry sets out roadmap for e-scrap

An international collaboration of companies, NGOs and individuals has set out a global strategy to deal with e-waste, including a specific emphasis on boosting developing markets for secondary materials.

The Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP) launched an initiative in 2020 towards an economically viable circular industry. The conclusions of 80 experts from 40 countries has resulted in six specific pathways to tackle the world’s fastest growing waste stream. E-waste represents 2% of solid waste streams but 70% of the hazardous waste that ends up in landfill.

CEP notes the value of total raw materials in global e-waste is approximately US$ 57 billion (EUR 57 billion) coming mainly from iron, copper and gold. High-quality recycling of information and communications technology (ICT) devices alone is estimated to present a US$ 2.5–5 billion opportunity.

In 2019, at a collection rate of 17.4%, only US$ 10 billion was recovered from global e-waste. It believes an even bigger opportunity lies in circular services and products, such as in reuse and refurbishment: for ICT devices, this is estimated at US$ 10-20 billion.

‘Despite their market power, individual electronics companies cannot act alone in transitioning towards responsible circularity,’ CEP says. ‘Given the global nature of the electronics supply chain, a “coalition of the willing” is needed across companies and value chain segments. The companies that demonstrate their willingness to act early in embracing circularity, can ultimately be better positioned in tomorrow’s market.’

The pathways, which include designing for circularity, driving demand for circular products, boosting collection rates, and promoting reuse and recycling, also consider secondary markets.

‘Increasing the availability, quality and transparency on quality of secondary materials and scaling recycled content in new product manufacturing are key levers for reducing demand for virgin materials and closing the loop on materials for circular electronics,’ it insists.

Barriers to increasing high-quality recycling and the use of recycled content in manufacturing include:

  • data standards and definitions for secondary materials
  • transparency on the origin and content of scrap material
  • transparency on long-term supply and demand
  • investment in recycling technology
  • competitive, quality recycling infrastructure in emerging markets

The report concludes: ‘While the roadmap of actions is structured around six pathways, no action can be achieved by a single category of players: cooperation of value chain players with other stakeholders such as public authorities, research organisations and academia, financial institutions, social enterprises, media and consumers will be key to executing the proposed roadmap and sharing experiences.’

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