According to the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER), Vienna, West Virginia, U.S. consumers are estimated to have purchased more than 1 billion devices in 2015, and more than 3.8 billion devices are thought to be in use or stored in households.
Reuse, refurbishment and recycling activities can capture the value of these devices and their components, protect human health and the environment through responsible used device management and conserve the resources embedded in the devices, NCER says.
The Sustainability Consortium, Tempe, Arizona, and the NCER, commissioned by the Closed Loop Foundation, which is affiliated with the Closed Loop Fund, have released a report on the current used electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) management landscape within the United States.
This report, which is based on a combination of research and stakeholder surveys, explores:
- the types and quantities of materials that are currently moving and will be moving from the consumer market into the waste stream;
- programs in place to deal with e-scrap and their effectiveness; and
- key drivers and innovations that will affect effectiveness of electronics recycling moving forward.
The report states that the challenges the existing electronics management systems face “originate with the nature of the devices themselves—assemblies of a large number of mixed materials connected for functionality and configured to optimize manufacturing, assembly and distribution. This situation will become worse over the next five years due to electronics industry trends that are creating smaller, lighter, and far more interconnected and complex devices. Further challenges for effective reuse and recovery are evolving as any given device contains less of any given material or element and as these smaller devices are being distributed more extensively through society as electronics are integrated into our cities, homes and even automobiles.”
The report continues, “To realize an effective used EEE management system in the United States, the industries that intersect in managing used equipment will need to modernize the system in place and prepare both technology and processes to handle the devices that will be received. To fail to do so is to lose the economic and material value of the devices and forfeit the environmental and societal benefits of a robust used EEE management system.”
Reuse and refurbishment are “very important pieces of the puzzle” when it comes to managing used EEE, according to the report. “Reuse and refurbishment represent the greatest value recovery opportunity from used devices, as well as the most environmentally friendly step, which allows the material resources in the device and the embedded energy from manufacturing processes to be captured and reused,” the report states. “Interviewees from all stakeholder groups identified reuse and refurbishment to be significant opportunities for used electronics management in the near term, and necessary for the industry in the long term, as the devices reaching end of life become smaller and lighter and therefore less valuable for materials recovery.”
However, to take advantage of this opportunity, a better collection system is needed, according to the report’s authors.
Stakeholders interviewed for the report identified the following opportunities:
- broadening the scope of products routinely collected;
- improving logistics and decreasing distances traveled;
- diversifying operations;
- implementing a national landfill ban; and
- investing in research and development.
The report identifies possible solutions in the areas of collection, innovation and systems support, saying, “The recommendations presented here are not perfect solutions, but that should not be used as an excuse for inaction. New processes and innovative approaches need to be encouraged and supported; taking even small actions that move toward a more robust and adaptable system will improve the overall effectiveness of used electronics management.”
The full report is available at www.sustainabilityconsortium.org/wp-content/themes/sustainability/assets/pdf/TSC_Electronics_Recycling_Landscape_Report.pdf. The NCER also will host a webinar June 1, 2016, at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST) about the study. Click here to register.