Electronic scrap remains a topic of interest for many recycling players, observes Dr Mohammad Chehadé, managing director of the Centre for Circular Economy (CCE) at Aachen University. He attended the recent Recycling Technik expo in Dortmund to discuss what is possible technically and what is holding back the industry – and society.
There are currently 26 working groups tackling the topic “circular economy” at Aachen University, Chehadé reports with enthusiasm.
He is hopeful the CCE will be able to bring the most innovative efforts, such as his new smartphone recycling project, together under one roof. ‘Pooling know-how and ensuring harmony across the value chain is the best way forward.’
For e-scrap, there are various factors adding complexity to the waste stream. ‘Hoarding is a big obstacle for German recyclers. It’s not a new problem but is definitely a stubborn one,’ Chehadé says.
‘On one hand, the volume is there but it’s stuck at home. Researchers and industry stakeholders have been debating for years as to how we reach it. What method — mechanical, metallurgical or chemical — will present the golden ticket?’
He recalls a recent nationwide scheme called Recycling ATM, launched with major retailers like Mediamarkt, to recover used electronics. ‘The initiative sadly failed,’ Chehadé adds, shaking his head.
‘I suspect it is because there wasn’t enough promotion. There were no posters, no commercials and so the machines stood in a dark, forgotten corner of the shop, practically unnoticed. It’s such a shame, isn’t it? I mean, who can use this wonderful take-back scheme if no one knows about it in the first place?’
He insists recyclers should be louder and demand more attention. ‘They have to work together with enthusiastic partners to make collection top of the mind for consumers and local legislators.’
Even so, he maintains the future is bright for those specialising in e-scrap. ‘Momentum is building. More cost-efficient solutions are needed to make e-cycling commercially viable. E-scrap management counts as a competitive market that still sees rare earths getting lost. It’s high time we do what we can to reclaim more than just the typical technology metals from the urban mine.’