End-of-life electronic equipment too often finds itself in the wrong places, most recyclers agree, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade associations are among those attempting to reduce environmentally unsound and unsafe recycling practices.
Jim Puckett and the Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN) NGO he helps lead have been investigating electronics recycling practices that put workers and the environment at risk for two decades. BAN eventually created the e-Stewards certification program, which is designed to ensure computers and peripheral equipment are handled properly throughout their end-of-life chain of custody.
In the previous two years, BAN has been researching and deploying tracking devices designed to “follow” individual pieces of equipment, such as printers and LED display monitors, that were dropped off at recycling collection points in the United States.
Puckett said of 152 units tracked, 69 were exported, with 37 going to Hong Kong, 11 to China and five to Taiwan. (Other destinations included Pakistan and Mexico.)
A follow-up trip to Hong Kong, China and Taiwan found “many unregulated businesses” in the rural New Territories area of Hong Kong, said Puckett. Some of these sites contained outdoor stockpiles of old printers or “broken and dumped” LED monitors, he said. In some cases, workers who were harvesting metal parts from the units would scatter when Puckett and his team approached.
The Hong Kong government “has a real responsibility to close the loopholes and shut down the junk yards,” said Puckett. “We want them to shape up and properly enforce the Basel Convention [on exporting electronic scrap].”
Puckett said e-Stewards will continue to track devices so its certification can be “the gold standard; the high bar in certification.”
Both certification programs are reaching out beyond their roots in the U.S., said Stasik, with R2 in particular having a growing presence in Asia. The growth of e-scrap processing capacity in China and India “has been a real big boon for R2,” he commented. “In Hong Kong, I’ve been involved with eight accounts myself, so it is moving this way. I think it’s going to migrate over,” he said of certification.
Professor Hyunsoo Kim of Kynoggi University in South Korea says the Korea Electronics Recycling Cooperative (KERC) has been spearheading efforts to ensure e-scrap is recycled responsibly in that nation.
He said he volume of e-scrap collected in South Korea has risen from 1.1 million units (devices) in 2003 to 11 million in 2015, as measured by an extended producer responsibility program in place there.
Kim said KERC has been experimenting with RFID (radio frequency identification) and other technologies to track end-of-life devices, and has run pilot programs where a QR (quick response) coded tag is attached to a device and must be scanned at every stage of its end-of-life handling until it is broken down into secondary raw materials.
The 2016 Word Recycling Forum: Electronics & Cars Recycling, was organized by Switzerland-based ICM AG and was 15-18 November in Macau, China.