The Metals Price of E-Waste, How Can Large Nations Recycle More Scrap?

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The price estimate of discarded metals; including gold, silver, iron and copper, according to the UN’s Global E-Waste Monitor 2014 report is $52 billion in 2014, alone.

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The gold itself was valued at about $11.2 billion. Some researchers, according to the report felt that in many cases, it made sense to recover the metals.

More Scrap Recycling Needed

Not much was diverted for recycling. Only about one-sixth of last year’s e-waste was moved from landfills for reuse, according to the report.

crane in scrapyard

Let’s try to recycle more scrap metal for fun and profit, okay?

While advanced countries have robust recycling policies for electronic goods and most major cities in the US have, at least unofficial, scrap gathering and recycling networks involving local scrapyards and trucks that gather metals and bring them to the for-profit yards for recycling. A majority of the brands operating from India, for example, do not have a tangible policy for taking back or managing the end of life of their products.

Better-Performing Recycling Programs

A recent study by downtoearth.org quoting non-profit agency Toxics Link, said that despite having a take-back system in India, it did not function for most brands. The producers/manufacturers did not even display adequate information on their websites, while customer care teams had no clue most of the time about any take-back or recycling programs.

For a country such as India, huge in terms of both physical area and population, the report said, creating an e-waste collection mechanism is a challenge. Another major question was how to bring thousands of producers and importers under the ambit of the law.

Another research paper has estimated that in just over a decade, India will have around 130 million old desktop computers and 900 million laptops. According to this report in the Hindu BusinessLine, there is a huge gap between the e-waste generated in India and its capacity to deal with it. Just about 16 formal e-waste recycling companies exist, with an installed recycling capacity of about 66,000 metric tons, which is just enough to take care of about 10% of the nation’s total e-waste.

The Toxics Links report has suggested that India follow the model Norway uses for its e-waste disposal. When e-waste rules were introduced in that country a decade ago, it faced similar questions.

How the Norwegians Recycle Scrap

On a per capita basis, Norway leads the way in generating e-waste the UN report said. Norway generates 62.4 lbs. per Norwegian. Switzerland is second with with 58 lbs. per inhabitant, while Iceland rounds off the top three with 57.3 lbs. The UK comes in fifth with e-waste per capita amounting to 51.8 lbs. while the US is in ninth position with 48.6 lbs.

Norway is dealing with its e-, and other, waste by literally turning it into energy. All household waste, pre-sorted by law, is taken to a facility where it is, metric ton by metric ton, dropped into an incinerator and burned at 850 degrees.

In the end, a Norwegian trash incineration facility is left with ash, metal – which is taken for recycling – and a lot of heat. The heat boils water. The steam drives a turbine, which produces electricity. And the scalding water is piped off from the plant, to houses and public schools across Oslo. The Klemetsrud plant, near Oslo, fuels all of its public schools and 56,000 private homes.

This entire recycling process is codified into law in Norway. After many rounds of deliberations, Norway introduced an Extended Producer Responsibility law for manufacturers as well, which then culminated in an e-waste law with similar separation and collection requirements as the household waste laws.

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