At Etratech, we know the importance of environmentally conscious business, and how crucial recycling is to our planet. We place great value on being RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) compliant.
WEEE is an EU directive that, in conjunction with RoHS, sets collection, recycling, and recovery targets for all types of electronic goods. The RoHs Directive set restrictions upon European manufacturers as to the material content of new electronic equipment placed on the market. They both became European law in 2003, with revisions in 2012 and 2014.
Why is this so critical? According to the European Commission: “Waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) such as computers, TV-sets, fridges and cell phones is one the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, with some 9 million tonnes generated in 2005, and expected to grow to more than 12 million tonnes by 2020.” That’s made electronics recycling big business. The recycling industry is expected to grow from US$9.8 billion in 2012 to US$41.3 billion in 2019 – a growth of over 23%, which certainly reflects how “disposable” our personal electronics have become.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, we believe it is important to research who their recycler is, as this excess of WEEE products has caused capacity issues for many recycling firms, leading to some sending their waste overseas, rather than properly handling it.
In recent years, it was reported that several WEEE recyclers, including those dealing in television sets, have seen an increase of up to 30 percent, leading to the need for temporary storage when they couldn’t handle the drastic increases. This is just one example of WEEE increases, and that excess trickles down to all electronics, creating capacity problems across the board.
The problem is exacerbated today by falling scrap metal prices, which are putting many recyclers in Europe under tremendous pressure. Countries are handling the ROHS regulations with varying levels of success. Ireland is reportedly ahead of its target, thanks to WEEE Ireland collection events, while Romania is only recycling about 30 percent of its WEEE, while giving away another 21 percent. In the UK, consumers frequently find themselves paying a fee for removal of aging appliances and other larger electronics.
But the news isn’t all bad; in fact, there are a lot of promising stories about electronics recycling globally. According to Recyling Today, 70,000 metric tonnes of WEEE have been produced in Hong Kong in the last year. A recycler in that region the group reports transforming WEEE “into secondary materials such as plastic, aluminum, copper and iron after collection, separation, detoxification, dismantling and recycling.” That organization processed over 7 million metric tons of material last year and was able to recycle 80 percent.
Another recycler is leveraging European technology to transform WEEE into lower-emissions fuels, or Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), which could potentially replace fossil fuels. “RDF is relatively prevalent in European countries, and its application can be incorporated in steel, cement, and asphalt production industries,” the recycler noted.
We believe in the importance of proper recycling, and encourage manufacturers to do the necessary research, ensuring that they choose a recycler who follows the correct procedures and can handle the increases, dealing with excess in responsible – and ideally, innovative – ways. We are all responsible for our planet.