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Electrics, Electronics & EV Batteries

Extract BIR Annual Report 2023

Let’s dispel the misconceptions - Can we be a part of the solution?

I am deeply honoured for the trust invested in me as the new Chairwoman of what is now known as the BIR Electrics, Electronics and EV Batteries Committee (EEEVB). This is the fastest-growing and undoubtedly the fastest-changing material stream handled by recyclers and so I am mindful of the responsibility ahead and will strive to do everything in my capacity to meaningfully contribute to and lead this Committee.

In recent years, the words “scrap” and “waste” have created misconceptions about what we actually do. Looking at recycling from the perspective of a resource material rather than as a waste or scrap material would help policy-makers formulate guidelines that would help us achieve higher levels of recycling. The initial step, therefore, was to change the name of our Committee. Our new name is a more positive reflection of the essential environmental work we do and highlights the changing nature of what we handle, for example, through the addition of “EV Batteries”.

Changing perceptions of our industry for the better will be one of my key goals as Committee Chairwoman. My own fascination with recycling began with a school project I undertook at the age of 13 and has stayed with me ever since. I’d like today’s younger generation to experience the same thrill of discovering that there is an industry out there in which they can pursue their commitment to recycling and, by doing so, make a real difference to the way we treat our planet and its precious resources.

The electronics recycling industry has made a massive contribution to resource conservation and to reduction of harmful emissions. However, the industry continues to face challenges with changing regulations and the complexities of new technology-driven products.

As electrical and electronic devices become ever more complex, recycling outcomes could be significantly enhanced if manufacturers and recyclers collaborated during the design stage. By working together early on with a focus on recycling, recovery of secondary raw materials and minimizing the fire risks related to lithium-ion batteries (LiBs), incredible progress could be made towards safely recycling and closing the loop for a circular economy. If LiBs were positioned in products with ease of removal in mind, this would undoubtedly lead to a reduction in fires at recycling facilities. Apart from the obvious danger to personnel and to property, these increasingly frequent LiB fires have led to escalating insurance premiums for recyclers in Europe and the USA.

From the start of 2025, amendments to the United Nations Basel Convention will be implemented for all materials designated as e-waste. These materials are to be subjected to prior informed consent (PIC) procedures for all transboundary movements that fall under hazardous and other wastes. Delays with paperwork could definitely be foreseen owing to the change of regulations and allied procedures. As pointed out at our session in Abu Dhabi last October by BIR’s Trade & Environment Director Alev Somer, we as recyclers must prepare well in advance for this change that would impact the transition to the new procedures as well as existing trade flows.

Another concern relating to regulation, as pointed out by Julie-Ann Adams of the European Electronics Recyclers Association in her presentation to our session in Amsterdam last May, is that different governments will interpret legislation in different ways; her example was the EU’s WEEE Directive which, she said, had given rise to the implementation of 27 different versions by Member States.

In his presentation to the BIR Convention in Amsterdam last May, Yousef Al Sharif of Sharif Metals Group identified construction/infrastructure projects and substantial tech-related consumption among expatriate populations as key sources of end-of-life electronics in the Middle East region where an estimated 1.74 million tonnes was generated in 2022, mostly in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. A 25% increase in this figure was anticipated by the year 2030.

While industry challenges in the region included lack of awareness/education, informal recycling practices and insufficient infrastructure, growing interest in electronics recycling as well as enhanced corporate social responsibility commitments suggested huge potential lay ahead, according to Mr Al Sharif.

Only around 5% of LiBs are being recycled at present, we were told at the BIR meeting in Abu Dhabi by Leah Chen of S&P Global Commodity Insights. This is one example, among many, of the huge amount of work still to be done if recycling is to maximize its potential to deliver environmental benefits.

We are all consumers of electrical and electronic devices and we can lead by example in creating awareness within our families, communities and workplaces of the significance of electronics recycling and, more importantly, how we can be advocates for safe handling of end-of-life electronic devices as consumers and recyclers.

“The electronics recycling industry has made a massive contribution to resource conservation and to reduction of harmful emissions. However, the industry continues to face challenges with changing regulations and the complexities of new technology-driven products.”

Josephita Harry

Pan American Zinc LLC (USA)
CHAIRWOMAN ELECTRICS, ELECTRONICS & EV BATTERIES COMMITTEE
Infography

IMPORTANT FACTS

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. THe study is currently being updated.

RECYCLING PROCESSES

COLLECTING

DISMANTLING

SHREDDING

Depollution: Before material recycling, certain countries require best-practice depollution of scrap electrical and electronic equipment in order to remove hazardous components or materials to enable their environmentally sound management and to ensure they do not contaminate subsequent recycling processes or recycled materials.

Sorting: Scrap electrical and electronic equipment is generally hand-sorted and dismantled in order to separate out materials and components for reuse, repair or material recovery. The aim is to obtain the most value from the equipment as a whole, or from its components, or from its materials.

Shredding: After required pre-treatment, large electrical appliances such as cookers and washing machines are commonly shredded in large hammermills together with other metal scrap and pre-treated end-of-life vehicles. After the required pre-treatment, small electrical goods may be fed into smaller dedicated shredders using a variety of shredding methods. Depending on national laws, pre-treated refrigerators, freezers and cooling equipment may be shredded in dedicated enclosed shredders in order to capture gases used in their manufacture and use.

Recyclers aim to find a secondary raw materials market for plastics, glass from inside refrigerators and other non-metallic materials separated from scrap electrical and electronic equipment.

Media separation: Further separation is achieved using eddy-current separators, or high-pressure air flows or flotation systems using liquids of varying densities. Other processes may be necessary to separate materials from each other, recycling them separately.

Melting: The recovered metals are melted in a furnace. The melting, refining and alloying process is determined by the standardized composition necessary for the future applications of the metal alloys. The molten metal is then poured into moulds or cast into shapes. Later, they can be rolled into flat sheets used to manufacture new products.

RECYCLING FACTS

  • Annually, the electronics recycling industry in the USA alone is worth more than US$ 20 billion to the economy and processes over 5 million tonnes.
     
  • Annual arisings of e-scrap are expected to 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, according to BIR-commissioned research.

Steering Committee

Chairwoman

Josephita Harry

Pan American Zinc LLC (USA)

Yousef Al Sharif

Sharif Metals Group DMCC (ARE)

Lionel Lai

Majestic Corporation (Hong Kong, CHN)

Ben László

Kuusakoski Recycling (FIN)

Robin K. Wiener

ReMA (USA)

Steve Wong

China Sustainable Plastics Association (CHN)