The WRF Electronics Recycling Asia Conference held in Singapore from 11 - 14 November 2014 addressed the increasingly important global topic of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling and highlighted the value of bringing together vested stakeholders. Participants shared their knowledge, expertise and product portfolios to help identify practical solutions and promote sustainable approaches via shared responsibility and commitment to resolve electronic waste issues.
Patrick Lindweiler from STEINERT Germany presented at the conference on available technologies to recover the valuable metals and plastics from e-waste.
The Problem with E-Waste
Everyday household and business electrical goods contain valuable non-renewable resources such as gold, steel, copper, zinc and aluminium that, at the end of the product’s life, can be fully recycled for future use. These products also contain hazardous materials e.g. lead, cadmium and mercury, which if disposed of incorrectly, can cause significant harm to the environment (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013).
Furthermore, rapid developments in technology mean that these products are more affordable and become obsolete quicker than ever before. Every year, millions of tonnes of outdated electronic goods are being disposed of, making e-waste one of the fastest growing waste streams across the globe.
International Approaches to the Problem
The approach and effectiveness of e-waste programs varies significantly across the globe. The United Nations Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative has been established to develop a global solution to e-waste through policy analysis, capacity building and pilot projects.
In Europe the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, forms part of national laws in all European Union countries. It aims to increase recycling and reuse of e-waste through the creation of collection schemes and made manufacturers of electronic equipment responsible for their equipment at the end of its life.
Canada introduced a national stewardship scheme in 2004 to cover the cost of recycling discarded electronic products. On the other hand, the approach to e-waste in the United States is, for the most part, managed on a state-by-state basis with a wide variety of approaches including stewardship schemes, landfill diversion policies, education programs and bans.
Many Asian countries have or are in the process of introducing legislation for e-waste recycling. Of particular concern is the import of e-waste and the potential for environmental harm caused by unsafe practices and for these countries to become dumping grounds for the unwanted hazardous component once the high-value materials have been recovered. E-Waste falls under the Basel Convention which aims to limit the transfer of hazardous waste materials between countries, particularly from developed to less developed nations, however there is still a high volume of e-waste being illegally imported into these countries.
In 2011, the Australian Government launched a national, industry funded scheme recycling - the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) - to promote and facilitate recycling of televisions and computers as the first step towards finding a solution to this growing problem.
While the scheme has experienced some teething problems, an operational review is currently underway to address the issues identified and make improvements to build a stable e-waste recycling industry for Australia.
E-Waste may be a major problem across the globe but it also presents significant future opportunities for investment, capacity and employment for the recycling industry. Events such as the WRF Electronics Recycling Asia Conference provide a forum for stakeholders to share information and work together towards identifying workable solutions to the problem.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. Electronic and Electrical Waste, last updated 18 February 2013.http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/4602.0.55.005~2013~Main+Features~Electronic+and+Electrical+Waste?OpenDocument