A combination of economic incentive and government encouragement has allowed electronics recycling to blossom in China.
China has long been considered a maker and exporter of consumer electronics, but the development of a larger middle-class population has helped it gain ground as a recycler of these same products.
Professor Li Jinhui, speaking at the Electronics Recycling Asia conference in November, gave an outline of the evolution of China’s electronic scrap industry as well as some potential changes.
Li noted that prior to 2000, electronics recycling in China was largely unregulated and often consisted of unsafe practices such as acid leaching and burning of wire and cable. These unregulated activities occurred largely in pursuit of precious metals and copper.
From 2000 to 2011, several pilot programs were tested, including the “Old-for-New” appliances televisions and computer recycling program, where buyers of new goods received a 10 percent subsidy if they brought in an old one for recycling. The program has helped prepare China’s growing middle class to become recyclers of obsolete electronics.
As of 2012, China has adopted regulations modeled on the European Union’s WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directives.
According to Li, there are now more than 70 “licensed dismantling enterprises” in China that are certified to handle electronic scrap, with 43 of these receiving government subsidies to help them carry out their work.
“We are in a new stage,” declared Li. “In the past, we were doing some ‘easy’ recycling. We are evolving,” he stated, adding that China’s government and recycling industries are now delving deeper to address the challenges and opportunities of recycling rare earth elements from the obsolete electronics stream.
Li said current efforts result in “a very serious waste of rare earth elements, and we need policies for the future.” Citing metals such as cobalt and lithium as well as rare earth elements, Li added, “The demand remains significant, so we do need to do significant work and have set policies. There is great room for improvement [and] new technologies.”
The Electronics Recycling Asia conference, organized by ICM AG, was Nov. 13-16 in Guangzhou, China.
[RecyclingToday.com; for RTGE and Electronics newsletter; image ERFProfLi.jpg in Web Images folder; prepared by Brian]