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E-waste regulations promise recycling benefits

Posted: 14 May 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Research and Markets  recycling  RoHS  WEEE  e-waste 

Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations have brought to light awareness about the hazardous materials used in electronics products and the end-of-life recycling issues associated with electronics products. It is likewise opening the path for a huge recycling market that may create new sourcing opportunities for the electronics supply chain.

Depending on which report you read, the WEEE and RoHS impact is going to be sizable, and might get supply chain managers rethinking how and where they source precious metals.

Globally, the electronics recycling market was valued at $9.84 billion in 2012, and it's forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 23.06 per cent from 2013-2019, according to Research and Markets.

Regionally, the "Global Electronic Recycling (Copper, Steel, Plastic Resins) Market - Forecast & opportunities, 2019" study shows that Europe dominated the e-waste recycling market followed by North America, primarily because of the WEEE and RoHS initiatives. The European electrical and electronic waste recycling market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2020, noted the study. Eurostat, the European Union's statistics organisation, points out that WEEE is "considered to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, growing at 3-5 per cent per year."

As an interesting side note, South Africa's e-waste is expected to increase eight times in the near future, the Research and Markets report found, primarily because the country "is extensively serving as dumping ground for e-waste."

So, what are the supply chain implications and re-use issues related to this e-waste recycling boon?

For one, supply chain and design professionals may want to start collaborating more closely with e-waste collectors; they may one day find their way onto the approved vendor list.

Cost fluctuations for raw materials such as steel, copper, zinc, tin, nickel, aluminum, gold, silver and plastic resins, products typically showing up in global electronic recycling market, put pressure on purchasing budgets. Additionally, engineering departments are being asked more frequently to build re-use criteria into their new products, meaning recycled e-waste will find homes in new products.

From an e-waste collector's point of view, Frost & Sullivan's analysis of Europe's WEEE recycling market found that strict EU legislation, the increasing volume of e-waste, escalating landfill prices, limited landfill capacity, the high cost of mining and the scarcity of precious metals are causing a ripple effect. While there is heightened demand for the recycling of e-waste, there is also a lack of efficiency in the WEEE material collection process at the source level and slow execution of environmentally-sound recycling processes.

Frost & Sullivan said, "These shortcomings can be easily addressed when market participants understand that the quality and quantity of available WEEE material for recycling can be improved through direct and close collaboration with the customer." For EBN readers, I think that suggests opening the doors of communication wider, both to understand the collect process and what materials will have greater availability if the recycling processes are improved.

Even as the electronics recycling market is growing, some companies may continue to feel the pinch as other elements show up on the banned or recyclable list. For example, Europe's recycling efforts may affect the availability of raw materials needed to produce various optical and photonics products, according to this article by SPIE, the international society advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light.

Under the EU's REACH mandate, which regulates chemical registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction, arsenic oxide will be prohibited for use as a raw material in optical systems after May 2015. Arsenic oxide is commonly used as "a marginal but important constituent" in UV detectors, microscopes, telescopes, metrology optics and low-expansion glass ceramics, the SPIE article stated. Likewise, RoHS restrictions on lead and cadmium could mean the "loss of many essential properties of specialty glass such as refraction and filtering," it continued.

- Jennifer Baljko
  EBN





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