Despite growth in e-scrap recycling volumes, it remains unclear how the industry will evolve.
|From left, Steve Skurnac, Linda Li, Klaus Hieronymi, Patick Lin and Roger Burri
Product stewardship laws and opportunities to reclaim resources have prompted electronics OEMs to make considerable investments in recycling in the past decade. To what extent the trend will continue is unclear, according to some members of a panel discussion at the Electronics Recycling Asia event, held in mid-November 2013 in Singapore,
Klaus Hieronymi, who has global resource efficiency and circular economy strategy responsibilities with Hewlett-Packard (HP), called the increase in e-scrap’s value a “paradigm shift” and said HP has asked him “to understand the role of OEMs in a world where obsolete electronics have value.”
Taiwan-based contract electronics maker Wistron Corp. has made recent large investments in recycling, noted the company’s Patrick SN Lin. The company has constructed a 320,000-square-foot plastics recycling plant in China and is setting up a circuit board recycling facility in McKinney, Texas.
Panelists asked whether the electronics stream will retain all of its value or tonnage in the future. Lin commented that as it has risen in value, gold is now being used in just 30 to 40 percent of the circuit board applications in which it was formerly used, often being replaced by copper.
Regarding overall tonnage figures, panel moderator Steve Skurnac of Sims Recycling Solutions said a lot of the tons being recycled now are heavier cathode ray tube (CRT)-based units. Forecasters who don’t take into consideration the lighter weight of flat TVs or thinner laptops may be over-estimating future tonnages.
Increasingly, companies like HP are selling less hardware or much smaller devices. “We are not selling hardware, we are selling ‘brainware,’” said Hieronymi.
Hieronymi also said companies like HP were often drawn into the recycling business for legislative compliance and social responsibility reasons. “There is no business reason for an IT company to be in the recycling business,” he commented.
He acknowledged, though, that the social responsibility reasons have not disappeared. “When a PC is burning somewhere in the world with an HP logo on it, it comes back to us,” said Hieronymi.
Roger Burri of recycling firm Air Mercury AG, Switzerland, said such bad practices are already illegal but attention to enforcement has been lacking. “We do not need new laws and regulations—a lack of law enforcement is the problem we face. Why not a blacklist of companies that are not in line with regulations?” he asked.
Electronics Recycling Asia 2013 was Nov. 12-15 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore.