ISRI Convention 2014: Making progress in emerging e-scrap markets

“Going Global” panel discusses initiatives in Kenya to establish a regulatory model to recycle e-scrap.

May 8, 2014
RTGE Staff

Dell Corp., Hewlett-Packard and Philips are among three manufacturers working to build the recycling infrastructure in emerging markets, such as in Kenya, Africa.

These efforts were discussed during a panel session titled “Going Global,” during the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) 2014 Convention & Exposition, held in April in Las Vegas. At the session, three panelists discussed challenges, issues and trends in emerging global markets pertaining to the responsible recycling of electronics and how it can support employment in these regions.

Katharina Kummer Peiry of Kummer Eco-Consulting, Switzerland, moderated the panel session featuring Ireland-based Jean Cox Kearns of Dell Corp.’s Global Take Back program; Venkatesha Murthy of the Singapore consulting firm Vans Chemistry PTE Ltd.; and Eric Harris, director of government and international affairs for ISRI.

Cox Kearns related Dell’s ongoing efforts to build a recycling infrastructure in a number of emerging markets, including Kenya.

“Collection is not a problem in these countries,” said Cox Kearns. “The problem is, what do they do with it after collection.” She said media attention to rudimentary recycling operations in emerging markets is highlighting detrimental impacts to the environment as well as to people’s health and safety.

One of Dell’s ongoing efforts in Kenya is the E-Waste Solutions Alliance for Africa, a two-year-old initiative that also includes partners Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and Philips. The companies have worked to develop a regulatory model for electronics recycling for developing countries such as Kenya.

Cox Kearns said the alliance has worked with a U.K.-based recycler to establish a recycling facility in Nairobi, Kenya. East Africa Compliant Recycling, described as the region’s first large-scale e-scrap recycling facility, began operations in late 2013, according to a Dell press release.  

The alliance also has worked with several Kenyan government ministries to develop regulation for this emerging market, supporting the industry and its employment and opening the door for other recyclers, Cox Kearns said.

“We now have a model we hope will become one that can be copied across other markets, with some tweaking,” Cox Kearns said.

In his presentation, ISRI’s Harris said a critical issue for emerging markets building their recycling industries is attention to the classification of secondary materials that will be moved across national boundaries that allows for the return of commodity-grade materials to the global marketplace.

“How we allow those materials to be moved, through a classification or a defined model, is critical for this industry,” Harris said. This has become even more important, he said, as the Basel Convention, the international agreement regulating transboundary shipments, now includes such materials as consumer electronics, used medical equipment and used automobiles.

Another question Harris raised was the issue of producer responsibility and how recycling costs could be covered in various emerging markets, particularly since some streams “have a negative cost to recycle,” he said.

“We know it isn’t a one-size-fits all solution,” Harris said, explaining that what works in Europe or the U.S. may not necessarily work in emerging markets such as Africa, South America and Asia. He said industry stakeholders should understand and use the resources particular to each market.

One area that Harris identified as a possible game changer for the industry was the new attention and support for recycling employment in these emerging markets.

“For the past 10 years if not longer, policymakers have been working to shut down the employment sector,” he said. Now, said, with greater industry support and more regulatory flexibility, the opportunities for recycling industry employment in these regions looks promising. “That’s one of the things that is innovating the whole market.”

The ISRI 2014 Convention & Exposition was April 6-10 in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.