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E-Scrap: New trade restrictions for e-scrap market. Current legislative proposals and the impact of COVID-19 to date

  • Thursday, 4 June 2020
  • Pandemic takes a heavy toll on supply

    Technology is playing a vital role in nursing the world through the current pandemic, not least by enabling businesses to continue to function through facilitating a huge increase in home-working. “I hate to think what would have happened if we hadn’t had the opportunities which have come through technology,” said BIR E-Scrap Committee Chairman Dr Thomas Papageorgiou of Greece-based Anamet SA during the E-Scrap commodity online session hosted by the world recycling organization on June 4 in the framework of the BIR Global eForum.

    But while COVID-19 had underlined that electronics - and, by extension, the e-scrap management industry - were “very important for the whole globe”, recyclers’ activities were often viewed with unmerited “scepticism”, he lamented.

    Dr Papageorgiou’s comments preceded an analysis of latest legislative developments at the United Nations level from BIR Trade & Environment Director Ross Bartley in which he highlighted the risks posed by a proposal from Switzerland and Ghana to consign all non-hazardous waste electrical and electronic equipment and its components/constituents to Annex II of the Basel Convention, thereby requiring notification for transboundary movements.

    Mr Bartley had earlier explained that the Basel Convention’s E-Waste Technical Guidelines had been adopted in 2015 - but only on an interim basis - to provide a common understanding of the issues surrounding e-waste, particularly the regulatory distinction between waste and non-waste. “We think it’s time after five years for governments to settle down and adopt this document in full,” he said. And referring to the proposal from Switzerland and Ghana, he added: “It would be extremely risky to go forward with changing anything when those guidelines are not agreed and there’s no distinction around the world about what is waste and what is non-waste.” The proposal would also have implications at OECD level, he pointed out.

    Mr Bartley’s central involvement in crucial discussions at United Nations and OECD level highlighted the importance of BIR and national associations in advocating for the recycling industry, it was argued. According to Robin Wiener, President of the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, these representative organizations not only gave voice to the recycling industry’s interests but also provided members with a point of contact for regulatory updates and practical help in complying with latest legislation. “We do have certain relationships with governmental authorities where we can get information for members and do our best to help in these situations,” she said.

    Among a series of market reports, Josephita Harry of Pan American Zinc LLC acknowledged a sharp, pandemic-related drop in supply within the USA but also argued that substantial volumes of e-scrap were likely to come forward in the near future as a result of the increased reliance on electronics for educational purposes and also for working from home. “There’s going to be a lot of older devices coming out of the market in the coming months,” she insisted. In reviewing the European market, Dr Papageorgiou also identified supply issues during the pandemic as a result of the closure of the retail sector and the suspension of many scrap dealer operations.

    Omar Al Sharif of Sharif Metals, Int’l LLC provided an update of developments in the Middle East, identifying Saudi Arabia as the leading processor of e-waste among Gulf Co-operation Council countries. In early 2019, he also noted, EnviroServe had unveiled a major facility in Dubai capable of processing 100,000 tonnes of integrated waste per year, including 39,000 tonnes of e-waste.

    Focusing on the plastic component of e-waste, the China Sustainable Plastics Association’s Executive President Dr Steve Wong of Fukutomi Co. Ltd described how the recent slump in the oil price had driven down prime plastics prices, thereby adversely impacting the economics of recycling and leading to selling prices for some pellets that were below the costs of processing. Oil and prime plastic prices had shown some improvement over recent weeks, he added.

    Both Dr Wong and Surendra Borad Patawari of Belgium-based Gemini Corporation NV expressed optimism at the growing commitment among brand owners to an increased recycled content in their products.