- Over 500 representatives from the recycling industry met this past week at the International Electronics Recycling Congress (IERC) in Salzburg, Austria to discuss challenges and trends, mainly in e-cycling. Among main topics of discussion were:
- A shrinking supply of salvageable materials as more of them are illegally exported and as electronic devices become smaller.
- Declining metal prices, which result in plummeting costs for end-of-life electrical and electronic devices.
- The question of the necessity for the traditional role of recycling businesses, and how the introduction of the value-added chain will impact that role.
- According to Thierry Van Kerckhoven, global sales manager at the material technology group Umicore, a steep drop in commodities, namely metals, is forcing some recycling plants to shut down, particularly in Europe and North America.
- Others, making the same observation, said a legislative framework to promote recycling is critical, such as the new circular economy package that the EU Commission recently made public. This new model is where much of the change for recyclers will likely come in. "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."
A wavering economy and weakened market have thrown some curve balls, and as a result, it appears that focusing on processing more waste will not be the answer to generating revenue. Rather recyclers, specifically of electronics, will need to change the way they do business to survive and thrive under tough conditions — conditions so tough that some e-cyclers say it has become economically impossible to stay in business.
"Commodities prices will continue to be under pressure in the foreseeable future. Recycling companies that provide additional services and work together with manufacturers will be able to provide valuable services within the overall supply chain," said Steve Skurnac, global president of Sims Recycling Solutions.
Specifically, he said, recycling companies could contribute input into product design, collection and recycling initiatives.
Scott Venhaus, Arrow Electronics' Value Recovery Business general manager, called for innovation to not only create value, but protect the supply chain. The way to do it, he said, is by ensuring reclaimable commodities can be safely and properly 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.