The waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling sector currently is dealing with a difficult market, a fact made abundantly clear at this year's International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC 2016, which was held in Salzburg, Austria, 19-22 January. According to show organisers ICM, more than 500 representatives came together at this annual industry meeting. Among the most widely discussed topics this year were the challenges confronting WEEE recycling companies currently, ICM says.
Electronics increasingly are becoming smaller. In many cases this results in the devices containing less precious metals and other valuable metals, which is exacerbated by the steep drop in commodities prices.
During the IERC 2016 press conference, Thierry Van Kerckhoven, global sales manager at the material technology group Umicore, headquartered in Brussels, says these changes have resulted in lower earnings for WEEE recyclers, some of which have had to close plants, particularly in Europe and North America. Therefore, legislative framework conditions designed to promote recycling, such as the new circular economy package that the EU Commission recently made public, are more important than ever, he added.
The increasing level of miniaturisation poses the question of whether conventional treatment processes, such as shredding and postshredding technologies, will be adequate to cope with the recycling challenges of the future, Van Kerckhoven said.
Furthermore, some industry representatives are questioning the necessity of the traditional role of recycling businesses. Dr. Markus Laubscher, program manager, circular economy, at Royal Philips of the Netherlands, said, "The transition towards the value-added chains of the circular economy will occur. Recyclers therefore need to decide which role they intend to play in it. The focus on processing ever greater volumes of waste will not be sufficient to create additional added value."
Laubscher and Steve Skurnac, global president of Sims Recycling Solutions, West Chicago, Illinois, were the two keynote speakers at the IERC 2016.
During the press conference, Skurnac said, "Commodities prices will continue to be under pressure in the foreseeable future. Recycling companies that provide additional services and work together with manufacturers will be able to provide valuable services within the overall supply chain."
As the Sims representative emphasised, manufacturers need suitable partners to meet their recycling and sustainability targets. Recycling companies could provide valuable services in terms of product design, collection and recycling initiatives. "Recyclers can help to develop new markets for recycling products," Skurnac said.
Scott Venhaus, general manager of Englewood, Colorado-based Arrow Electronics' Value Recovery Business APAC and director of global quality and compliance, said he supports innovative approaches that can create value and protect the supply chain by ensuring reclaimable commodities can be returned to the manufacturing stream.
Arrow Electronics is a global provider of products, services and solutions for industrial and commercial users of electronic components and enterprise computing solutions.
Vehaus said, "We understand that our customers want to reclaim value from their assets, but they also need to know that their data and brand are protected and that their assets are being handled in the most environmentally responsible manner possible."