WEEE & Battery Recycling Conference: Sustainable from all angles

The sustainability movement is one of several factors that have helped secure the future of e-scrap recycling.

electronics recycling pile
The sustainability movement has joined regulations as a major factor spurring increased e-scrap recycling activity.
Photo provided by Shutterstock.

John Shegerian says several factors have helped turn his 2004 investment in the electronics sector into a multilocation company that serves corporate clients globally. Shegerian, co-founder and CEO of California-based ERI, and other panelists and presenters at the International WEEE & Battery Recycling Virtual Conference said it has not always been a linear progression, but the recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has benefited from a variety of factors.

As of 2020, Shegerian said in an interview that was part of the virtual conference, not only is e-scrap the fastest-growing recycling stream, it may be larger than it has ever been. “We have a proliferation of products that need to be recycled responsibly,” he stated.

Additional good news for electronics recyclers, he said, was that “all the byproducts and commodities—steel, plastic, other metals—[can go] to responsible [destinations] around the world for beneficial reuse.”

Despite the value of some of these materials, prorecycling legislation, corporate sustainability programs and information destruction needs all have played a role in increasing the recycling rate for e-scrap, added Shegerian. He said ERI has forged global alliances to serve information technology (IT) and electronics original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). “Our customers want us to be where they are,” he stated.

ERI, Shegerian said, operates three large shredding plants in the United States and has built its global alliance “carefully and one by one.” The result, he said, is ERI being part of “a great story for the environment [that] needs to be told more” as e-scrap recycling activity has grown.

As part of the same conference, Dr. Helmut Kolba of Germany-based Remondis Electrorecycling GmbH called electronics recycling “the most rapidly growing part” of the recycling business, saying it is expected to continue enjoying 3 percent per year growth. Kolba was recently appointed chair of the E-Scrap Committee of the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR).

At a roundtable discussion that was part of the virtual conference, the four panelists largely agreed that the sector was growing, but they also commented that prior and additional regulations (and enforcement) will likely be necessary to maintain the positive momentum.

“The OEMs have seen their commitments put in place by regulatory and legislative processes,” remarked Stuart Fleming of Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based EnviroServe. “They embrace it when it happens, as long as it’s a fair and equal process.”

Keith Anderson of the E-Waste Association of South Africa characterized OEMs as “up to [reaching recycling targets] when required.” He said even after appropriate legislation, however, “recovery rates can be exceptionally low.” If national or regional governments are not enforcing that legislation, “Is it serving its purpose?” he asked.

ALN Roa of Samalkha, India-based Exigo Recycling described an e-scrap recycling sector in that nation that is trying to process some 3.5 million tons of material per year. The sector is asking some 1,500 OEMs to play a role in expanding the nation’s current capacity, which he estimated as consisting of just 300 sizable recycling plants with a combined 1 million tons of capacity.

Nigel Mattravers of Hong Kong-based Alba Integrated Waste Solutions says that city only has to deal with about 75,000 tons per year of e-scrap, and an extended producer responsibility (EPR) system that his company is part of has been equipped to deal with parts of it, including televisions and computer monitors.

Agreeing with Anderson, Mattravers commented, “Without investment in enforcement, which also includes people employed by the enforcing agencies, then things don’t happen, and I think politicians need to recognize that.” He said his company has been pleased with Hong Kong’s ability to enforce its EPR system, but he knows of neighboring nations in Asia, such as the Philippines, where the situation is not as good.

The International WEEE & Battery Recycling Virtual Conference, which took place Dec. 9, was organized by Waste & Recycling Middle East & Africa magazine and co-hosted by the Recycling Today Media Group.

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