Fons Krist, general manager of Alba E-Waste Smart Recycling Pte. Ltd., has been helping that firm stick to an ambitious timeline to help the island nation of Singapore meet its targets to collect and recycle nearly 20 types of obsolete electronics.
The Singapore National Environment Agency (NEA) awarded the extended producer responsibility (EPR) program’s collection and diversion contract to the newly created subsidiary of Berlin-based Alba early this year. The NEA’s timeline gave Alba just a few months to get the program up and running by this July 1.
Subsequently, Alba has leased 3,910 square meters (42,000 square feet) of warehouse and office space in western Singapore, deployed a fleet of trucks and placed some 500 collection bins around the island nation.
Despite COVID-19-relatated restrictions that have made collection events impossible and slowed office and retail activity, Krist says Alba is putting into place the practices necessary to carry out its five-year contract to properly handle the nation’s discarded refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, computers, mobile phones, batteries, light bulbs and other items designated by the NEA.
The program has been met with “a good reception from Singapore residents,” says Krist. Publicity and outreach will remain a critical task for Alba, with the first four months of collection demonstrating that some of the NEA’s diversion targets may be difficult to reach. (The system is funded by fees paid by makers of the covered electronic items and appliances.)
Krist says air conditioners and electric vehicle (EV) batteries are being collected ahead of pace, and he is optimistic about prospects for refrigerators and other large appliances to meet their collection targets. Less clear, he says, is whether residents and small business owners can be convinced to more readily bring their batteries, light bulbs or even mobile phones to designated collection bins in the near future.
In Singapore’s EPR system, there are more than 15 covered items, each with a government-assigned goal (by weight) of how much should be collected annually by Alba. All collected items—as large as refrigerators and as small as light bulbs—are brought to the Alba warehouse for tracking and weighing.
Very little processing occurs at the warehouse. Instead, like items are shipped out to a network of approved recyclers set up by Krist and ALBA. These companies are periodically audited to ensure they are dismantling items and recycling materials to the EPR system’s standards.
One task that keeps Alba E-Waste Smart Recycling employees busy is sorting out covered items from uncovered (and thus unwanted) ones. On a recent afternoon, Krist points to a power drill, a video game controller and a barbecue grill component that were placed into collection bins despite their unwanted presence there.
The more productive sorting at the warehouse involves placing laptop computers, power cords, mobile phones and other covered items into bulk bags and other containers for forward shipping to the network of Singapore recycling firms.
“There should be nothing I have to hide,” Krist says of his and Alba's approach to the program, including offering access to the warehouse—and to collection figures—to local journalists.
While some of those collection figures have not yet reached where the Singapore NEA wants them, Krist expresses optimism that post-pandemic collection events and retail activity will provide a helpful boost. “It is early in the program, and we have not had ideal conditions,” he comments. “I’m looking forward to the strides we can make as this program really gets going.”