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‘E-scrap sector at the crossroads of many positive developments’

Recycling electronics is an important part of Glencore’s day-to-day business, according to trader Stephane Burban. This is largely due to its smelter in Quebec, which processes around 840 000 tonnes of copper and precious metals per year. Burban is to give an update on industry trends at next month’s International Electronics Recycling Congress in Salzburg.

How has Glencore evolved since its launch in 1974?

‘Glencore has become one of the world’s largest diversified natural resource companies and a major producer and marketer of more than 60 responsibly sourced commodities. Through a network of assets, customers and suppliers that spans the globe, we produce, process, recycle, source, market and distribute the commodities that enable decarbonisation while meeting the energy needs of today.

The company currently employs around 135 000 people, including contractors. With a strong footprint in over 35 countries in both established and emerging regions for natural resources, our marketing and industrial activities are supported by a global network of more than 40 offices.’

How are you taking the business beyond mining?

‘Glencore is proud to be a member of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the International Council on Mining and Metals. We are also an active participant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

We recognise our responsibility to contribute to the global effort to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Glencore’s ambition is to be a net zero total emissions company by 2050.

In August 2021, we increased our medium-term emission target to a 50% reduction by 2035 on 2019 levels and introduced a new short-term target of a 15% reduction by 2026 on 2019 levels.’

How does e-scrap fit into your operations?

‘We have been processing electronic waste for about 40 years. It is an important part of our business but so is the processing of automotive and production wastes, as well as other copper and precious metal-bearing secondaries. As long as we can safely handle it, any recyclable feed is of interest to us. Electronic waste recycling is also one of the links to Glencore’s overall sustainability goals and one of Glencore’s many contributions to the circular economy.’

Looking ahead, what are the main market drivers and challenges?

‘Main drivers for me are related to the circular economy and our ability to implement this concept to the full. This should create opportunities and partially solve a number of issues related to sustainability at large. That said, this will also come with a number of challenges.

From an industry perspective, great steps have already been taken in the right direction and the key is to ensure that those are aligned with OEMs’ needs which must be further articulated. They should engage further in that direction and competent authorities have to facilitate the circularity if we are to reach the goals of carbon neutrality that have been set out.

We need to produce better in the future and by that I mean produce with full life cycle analysis in mind and moving away from the production linearity we have had since the industrial revolution. Recycling is a key element to reach those goals.’

What is Glencore’s strategy for innovation?

‘We have set a clear ambition of achieving net zero total emissions (scope 1,2,3) by 2050 and this, I believe, is our biggest challenge being the size company we are. We are making great strides in that direction and are adaptable.

Applying a macro view to this concept and focusing on our recycling activity, the key for Glencore is to get closer to its supply base to overcome challenges such as lower value contents in the material we process and tighter waste movement regulations which are not always well thought through.

I respect and endorse the goals of waste movement regulation (transparency, accountability and ensuring that waste streams end up in the right hands for further processing) but I also question some of the regulations which hinder the concept of circularity.

I do not support free trade for waste as it rarely equates to fair trade but I do question the approach whereby bona-fide processors whose only aim is to comply with existing rules and regulations are given a harder time than waste traffickers.’

How would you describe the future for electronics recycling?

‘This industry has a great future. The key to this is to ensure that consumers at large realise the importance of circularity and that authorities take steps to enable it. I sincerely think that our industry is at the crossroads of many positive developments to come.’

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