Difficult market conditions are currently being faced by the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling sector, delegates to this year's International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC 2016 have heard.
The event, is being held in Salzburg, Austria from 19 to 22 January, and is being attended by over 500 representatives from industry. One of the topics most widely discussed this year was the range of new challenges confronting e-waste recycling companies at the present time.
The situation for e-waste recyclers was said to be anything but straightforward. Not only because considerable amounts of e- waste continue to be exported illegally, but also because the devices currently being placed on the market, which will later become electrical and electronic waste, are becoming increasingly small.
In many cases this is said to result in the devices containing less and less precious metals and other valuable metals.
It was also noted that the situation is exacerbated by the steep drop in commodities prices, which has also caused metal prices to decline, and the material value of many end-of-life electrical and electronic devices has therefore fallen sharply.
Recyclers Feeling the Squeeze
According to Thierry Van Kerckhoven, global sales manager at the material technology group Umicore, the situation resulted in lower earnings, which are causing major problems for many recycling enterprises, with some having already had to shut down plants, particularly in Europe and North America.
A great many market players have meanwhile were said to have realised that the e-waste sector is not an "eternally booming Eldorado". Hence legislative framework conditions designed to promote recycling, such as the new circular economy package that the EU Commission recently made public, are now more important than ever.
Van Kerckhoven also said that the increasing level of miniaturisation poses the question of whether conventional treatment processes such as shredding and post-shredding will still be adequate to cope with the recycling challenges of the future.
Some industry representatives questioned the necessity of the traditional role of therecycling businesses.
"The transition towards the value-added chains of the circular economy will occur,” said Dr Markus Laubscher, program manager Circular Economy at Royal Philips. “Recyclers therefore need to decide which role they intend to play in it."
"The focus on processing ever greater volumes of waste will not be sufficient to create additional added value," he added.
That was a point on which fellow keynote speaker, Steve Skurnac, global president of Sims Recycling Solutions, agreed.
"Commodities prices will continue to be under pressure in the foreseeable future," he said. "Recycling companies that provide additional services and work together with manufacturers will be able to provide valuable services within the overall supply chain."
According to Skurnac, manufacturers need suitable partners in order to meet their recycling and sustainability targets. Recycling companies could provide valuable services in terms of product design, collection and recycling initiatives.
Scott Venhaus, Arrow Electronics' Value Recovery Business general manager APAC and director of global quality and compliance, supports innovative approaches that can both create value and protect the supply chain by ensuring reclaimable commodities can be returned to the manufacturing stream.
"We understand that our customers want to reclaim value from their assets, but they also need to know that their data and brand are protected, and that their assets are being handled in the most environmentally responsible manner possible," he said.
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