In-depth analyses of an industry sector provide invaluable markers as to where we are now, where we have been in the recent past and, perhaps most crucially, where we may be heading in the years to come.
For this reason, 2018 was truly a landmark year for our Committee and for the sector we represent in that it brought the release at the BIR’s Barcelona Convention of “Statistics on the national arisings of e-scrap and the movement of e-scrap between countries”. Commissioned by the BIR E-Scrap Committee and undertaken by Harokopio University of Athens in Greece, this study provided statistical proof that e-scrap has come to represent one of the world’s fastest-growing waste streams and that the volumes will continue to increase at a significant rate over the next few years.
Putting our name to such studies enhances our reputation as the experts within our industry and enables us to speak with greater authority when addressing decision- and policy-makers, governments and supranational bodies on issues relating to what we do on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully, this will be the first of many studies that will not only provide the industry with useful information but also boost the BIR E-Scrap Committee’s status as the voice of the global industry.
Based on real data and on an extrapolation of figures from some 180 countries around the world, the expert team of researchers concluded that annual arisings of e-scrap would soar more than 30% in less than a decade – from 41.2 million tonnes in 2016 to 53.9 million tonnes by the year 2025. It was also no great surprise to learn that the steepest growth is anticipated for the Asia-Pacific region where generation of e-scrap is expected to leap from 3.6 kg per inhabitant to 5 kg over the same nine-year period, thanks in no small measure to more affordable electronics. Growth in the more established consumer markets is expected to be relatively muted, with per capita generation forecast to climb from 21.9 kg in 2016 to 24.1 kg in 2025 within the USA & Canada, for example
As well as offering statistical support for what we might have already suspected to be true, such a comprehensive analysis also has the power to alter entrenched perspectives. Within the document, for instance, it was noted that a two-year study of Nigeria’s two main ports had revealed 81% of imported electronic devices to be functioning, thus shaking the widely-held belief that African countries are simply a dumping ground for the developed world’s “waste”.
As stated at its launch in May, the E-Scrap Committee’s report provides a baseline for the recycling industry and policy-makers to plan effective actions to capture the e-scrap potential for contributing to Circular Economy goals. It also highlights the need for standardised methods and techniques to facilitate realistic and reliable measurement of the volumes of e-waste generated across the different regions of the world.
Standardisation was also a key theme at our meeting in London last October, at which guest speaker Federico Magalini reviewed the findings of a European Electronics Recyclers Association study into the impact of “scavenging” and of avoiding certain compliance requirements in Europe’s e-scrap sector. It was found that, for example, avoiding some quality and service requirements – such as reporting to authorities/compliance schemes, waste characterisation and audits – could cut operational costs by around 20% in the case of cooling & freezing equipment and CRTs. Clearly, such margins are substantial enough to skew competitive fairness, thus bolstering the argument in favour of standardisation for processing as a tool for calculating the costs of responsible recycling and establishing a level playing field for all industry players.
By Thomas Papageorgiou
Anamet Recycling Industry SA (GRC)
Chairman E-Scrap Committee
“ Such studies enhance our reputation as the experts within our industry and enable us to speak with greater authority when addressing decision- and policy-makers, governments and supranational bodies on issues relating to what we do on a day-to-day basis.”
E-SCRAP COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
Anamet Recycling Industry SA (GRC)
For most people, electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, tablets and laptops have become an essential part of their everyday lives. Worldwide, there is barely a corner of human activity which electronics have failed to penetrate, with an estimated 4.5 billion people now using the Internet, for example. Every year, a large proportion of these consumers buy new, updated equipment in a bid to keep pace with the latest technology trends.
The reuse, repair, refurbishment and eventual recycling of electrical and electronic equipment are not new activities. The repair of electrical and electronic equipment was a common activity for small businesses throughout most of the 20th century; however, manufacturers built in obsolescence in the 1990s and onwards, leading to a decline in the repairability of goods and in the number of repair shops. However, the public’s desire for longer-lasting, quality products is providing renewed impetus to refurbishment and repair, and as a result a better use of resources.
While cookers, refrigerators, freezers and air-conditioning units can last many years, consumer electronics become obsolete or unwanted often within two or three years of their purchase. The global mountain of e-scrap is expected to continue growing at more than 3% per year, according to BIR-commissioned research.
Recyclers have always found value in the metals contained in electrical and electronic equipment. However, recycling would be further facilitated if designs were to take full account of the ultimate recyclability of a product; some manufacturers have made great strides in this direction - partly in response to legislative and marketing pressure - but there is scope for further progress and for greater co-operation between product designers and recyclers.
IN-DEPTH BIR STUDY
As part of its remit to examine the potential for greater recycling, BIR’s E-Scrap Committee commissioned a study into both national arisings and transboundary movements of e-scrap. Based on real data and on an extrapolation of figures from some 180 countries around the world, this revealed that global generation of e-scrap is expected to soar from 41.2 million tonnes in 2016 to almost 54 million tonnes by the year 2025, with the fastest growth projected for the Asia-Pacific region where generation is anticipated to surge from 3.6 kg per inhabitant to 5 kg over the same nine-year period. By contrast, growth is thought likely to be significantly slower in the mainly saturated markets of North America and Europe.