The evolving global e-scrap industry

By Jerry Powell, E-Scrap News

In presentations at the International Electronics Recycling Congress last month, speakers focused on the ongoing changes in the global e-scrap processing industry.IERC

Steve Skurnac, the president of Sims Recycling Solutions, the world’s largest e-scrap processor, discussed the U.S. e-scrap recycling industry in a presentation at the event, which was held in mid-January in Salzburg, Austria. Sims’ leader called the U.S. e-scrap recovery system a “dysfunctional patchwork of programs and rules.”

Skurnac suggested state programs “create inconsistent product streams, lack enforcement and accountability, and provide little incentive to recycle products in an environmentally sound manner.”

He sees downward price pressure for recovered materials from electronics. “Commodity prices will continue to be under pressure in the foreseeable future. Then we’ll see a bounce back, but not any time soon.” Nonetheless, Skurnac remains optimistic.

He sees two business opportunities in today’s market: mobile products and data centers. He also suggests in industry will experience tougher environmentally sound management requirements and higher mandated recovery rates. He also predicts a decline in the scrap export market.

Skurnac feels service will be key to growth by e-scrap processors. He also suggests that processors will need to move to new activities, such as refurbishment or new material recovery systems. Already refurbishment represents about 20 to 25 percent of Sims’ global revenue. He also sees more effort to shorten the supply chain and to reduce the number of times an obsolete item is touched.

How might the current recovery system plus these new initiatives operate, especially in Europe? An ongoing debate in the European Union region concerns the need for processor standards.

Norbert Zonneveld, executive director of the European Electronics Recyclers Association (EERA), came before the audience to urge the approval of pan-European standards. The group is now petitioning the European Commission to adopt electronics recycling treatment standards. ERRA wants standards made mandatory for all treatment facilities handling waste electronics and electrical goods in the European Union. In this manner, standardization would involve all processors in the EU. Presently some nations employ tight operating standards, while neighboring countries do not. Zonneveld says this has resulted in “a distortion in the recycling market in the EU” because volumes “leak” from one nation to another, based on if a standard is employed.

One European operating standard is offered by WEEELABEX. Petr Novotny, the managing director of the organization, delivered a status report. WEEELABEX now has 110 recycling processors now certified in Europe and 75 other firms are seeking certification. Some 79 certification auditors have been approved by the organization.


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