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Latin American e-cyclers united in ambition

Photo courtesy of E-scrap Conference / Big Wave Productions

‘We need to tropicalise electronics processing. When we talk about this waste stream, the western perspective is still on auto pilot,’ according to Jhoanna Rosales, founder of Vertmonde, the first official e-scrap collection scheme in Ecuador. Speaking at the recent E-scrap Conference in New Orleans, she pledged: ‘I am fighting to change the narrative.’

‘Electronics are everywhere. Recycling them is not just a North American or European industry,’ Rosales argued at the annual assembly. ‘It’s important to zoom in on the unique challenges facing recyclers in our part of the world, where there is so much potential.’ She estimates Latin America produces around 5 million tonnes of e-scrap per year.

Today, an estimated 97% of e-scrap in the region is not managed properly. The value of this urban mine is said to be around US$ 2 billion in recoverable materials. A report published by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation earlier this year suggests that the volume of e-scrap grew by 49% between 2010 and 2019. 

No mega shredders

‘The thing is, most of our countries are quite small,’ she laments. With a population of just under 18 million people, Ecuador is in the top five smallest nations in Latin America. As a result, waste generation numbers of individual nations are much lower than in the US.

Vertmonde has collected over 5300 tonnes of e-scrap for recycling since its launch in 2017, Rosales tells Recycling International. ‘I recall 2020 was a peak year, with 1385 tonnes collected.’ Last year this dropped somewhat, totalling 800 tonnes.

‘We’ll have to see what this year brings, now we’re closing the covid-19 chapter and the government is finally demanding producer responsibility. The latter will likely boost scrap volumes – but how much? And how much more recycling capacity do we have on the short term?’

Rosales points out electronics have longer lifecycles across Latin America. ‘This means older electronics are coming into the yard and that big volume technology isn’t suitable for our operations. Forget about mega shredders,’ she laments. ‘I’m hoping that smaller scale equipment will become available in the near future so we can step up our game, a day at a time.’

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