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Mounting complexity is key challenge for e-scrap recyclers

Global – Already today, 15 billion devices and objects are digitally connected with one another, with experts predicting an increase to 50 billion by the year 2020. The tally includes not only computers, tablets and smartphones but also wearables, consumer electronics and vehicles. This will present recycling companies with a range of difficulties, as highlighted during the latest International Electronics Recycling Congress (IERC 2017) held in Salzburg.

Dell already takes repairability and recyclability into account when designing products, stated Jonathan Perry, producer responsibility compliance consultant for the computer manufacturer. ‘The batteries of our laptops are easily removable and we use recycled plastics from recycled electronics in our housing parts, effectively closing the materials loop,’ he explained. Dell’s experts are looking at future design as well as recycling technologies ‘to ensure that our products remain highly recyclable’, he added.

But there are other materials that are causing headaches for recyclers. ‘Apart from the increasingly complex materials, composites of mixed materials, the known legacy heavy metals and halogenated flame retardants, new additives are also beginning to emerge, such as nanoparticles, presenting recycling enterprises with new challenges,’ emphasised Dr Mike Biddle, managing director of Evok Innovations as well as founder and director of recycler MBA Polymers.

According to Biddle, it is possible that some of these new materials and additives may also present new dangers with respect to environmental protection and industrial health & safety if not handled with care, particularly during shredding or other size-reduction processing.

From a commercial standpoint too, the coming years are also likely to remain challenging, noted Biddle. He sees three trends that are actually ‘good for the planet’: firstly, downsizing to make electronic devices ever smaller; secondly, life extension, which means the turnover cycles of many devices are beginning to lengthen; and thirdly, a general trend towards a sharing economy.

‘Particularly in major cities, the idea of sharing is becoming more and more popular,’ Biddle pointed out. ‘Not every home needs all of the power tools and appliances they have that they perhaps use only a few times a year.’ Although the sharing economy is a good idea, ‘it definitely also has a downside for e-scrap recyclers as it reduces the number of new devices that need to be produced and therefore also the volume of end-of-life devices that need to be disposed of’, he added.

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