Faced with the growing popularity of electronic devices, recyclers are busier than ever and eager to cast a wider net across services such as data destruction and refurbishing. A leading example is the Dutch e-scrap specialist Holland Recycling. Last week, we stepped into the yard to see for ourselves.
Holland Recycling BV has three different business units: one dedicated to electronics recycling; another focussing on reuse and refurbishing; and a new division pioneering circular economy ideas. The company, located in the small southern Dutch town of Boxtel, employs 25 people. Most work within the e-scrap recycling arm which annually processes thousands of tonnes of devices, primarily printed circuit boards (PCBs). These are sorted into no fewer than 25 different fractions which fall into three main quality categories: low end, medium and high end.
‘Nothing gets mixed in with material from other categories, as is common practice in the recycling sector,’ says sales manager Luuk Bongers. ‘When we deliver recovered metals to our clients, they know they are getting a batch of only one quality – exactly the one they asked for.’ The value of printed circuit boards varies widely from just a couple of Euros per kg to EUR 30 or more.
Despite the pandemic, manager director Milko Steer believes Holland Recycling has not seen much change in its day-to-day operations. ‘2020 was a great year for us and the same can be said for 2021; we even hired new people to keep up with the demand for recycled materials,’ he says. ‘Our reuse unit now employs eight people and there is room for growth.’ The company wants to expand its current site, which is becoming too small for the ambitions of the entrepreneurs.
‘We got into the refurbishing and reuse market about seven years ago,’ Steer adds. ‘It’s a booming market today. We saw the potential then, when we were the first Dutch recycling company to get Weelabex certification, giving us the official OK to refurbish electronics.’ It proved to be a smart move. Phone and computer repair shops have popped up around the world with growing interest in so-called ‘second life’ devices.
Bongers opens the door to the reuse workshop and we walk into a large hall with pallets of packaged electronics lining the walls, all carefully labelled. ‘At this station, incoming electronics are analysed, registered and cleaned. Product types range from computers and screens, laptops and servers to smaller appliances like tablets and phones. At the next station, they are taken apart to have malfunctioning components replaced with new ones. Sometimes, we can swap around components from other devices we have in storage – or from devices we receive from the same client.’
Once they are fixed and checked for optimum functionality, the electronics are taken upstairs to the photography deck. Each item is photographed and prepared for shipment following online auctions held every month or two. ‘We’ve just sent out a load of stuff,’ Bongers says, pointing to a table showcasing a pair of Apple flatscreen monitors and a neat pile of Macbooks. ‘Last week, you could hardly see the desk. Some clients order a relatively small collection of 50 or so laptops for their staff, others buy 500 at a time.’