WEEE Creating a Recycling Boon

Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations have created awareness about the hazardous materials used in electronics products and the end-of-life recycling issues associated with electronics products.

It's also creating 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 compounded annual rate of 23.06 percent from 2013 to 2019, according to the statement announcing a new report from 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 organization, points out that WEEE is “considered to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, growing at 3-5 percent 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 says, “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, authorization, 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 states. 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.

All this is to say that the impact of environmental laws that emerged over the last decade is still playing out in the electronics supply chain. How is your supply chain strategy holding up under these regulatory changes?

2 comments on “WEEE Creating a Recycling Boon

  1. t.alex
    May 13, 2014

    Leading consumer electronics companies should take more active roles and be pioneers in e-waste recycling. By doing so, consumers will be more educated about e-waste in general.

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    May 14, 2014

    It's clear that Europe is ahead of the US in this and we should take some lessons from it. I wonder what has caused the big gap in interest and action?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.