Salzburg -- Although the recycling of electrical and electronic waste presents a number of major challenges, the innovative efforts of the recycling industry are just as great. The International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC once again demonstrated this fact in Salzburg from 21 to 23 January. A total of 63 exhibitors were present at the three-day industry meeting and around 500 recycling experts came from all over the world to attend this key event. The main focus was on discussions and expert opinions regarding both current and future market conditions as well as on presenting new technologies for treating e-waste. The conference was accompanied by workshops and also included two excursions to the Montanwerke Brixlegg refinery and recycling plant as well as to the Müller-Guttenbrunn recycling group, both in Austria.
Quite a few topics were up for discussion this year. Due to the generally lower metal content in the waste and the falling metal prices, market conditions for e-waste recycling have deteriorated considerably. What used to be a lucrative business has now become a fight for every euro. That is one of the reasons why the future of the industry will increasingly hinge on finding cheaper and at the same time more efficient ways of treating e-waste. The congress in Salzburg impressively demonstrated that technologies to put this into practice are already available. For example, a university professor from Taiwan presented a new chemical process for simply and effectively recovering gold from electronic devices. In total, around 20 speeches on innovative treatment technologies were held on subjects ranging from conventional e-waste to used lamps and refrigerators.
Further speeches on the markets in Kenya, the US and Eastern Europe, however, showed that market conditions can vary greatly from country to country. In Germany, for example, although 8.8 kilograms of e-waste were collected per capita in 2010, in Poland the figure was only 2.8 kilograms. Market leader was Sweden with 15.9 kilograms collected per capita. That is why the establishing of efficient collection systems is one of the key prerequisites for globally successful e-waste recycling, as several recycling experts stressed at the IERC.
Moreover, enforcement urgently needs to be improved, as David Higgins from the International Criminal Police Organization Interpol emphasised in his speech. He spoke about the possibilities of tightening enforcement for waste exports as a way of preventing illegal exports. Due to criminal business practices, recyclers are still missing out on important material they urgently need to optimally utilise their treatment plants.
On Thursday, the conference was concluded with a panel discussion on the future of the circular economy, which included Maria Banti from the European Commission, among others. She assured the conference that the new EU Commission would soon be reaching a decision on the originally planned waste management legislation. She furthermore stated that even if it were to be withdrawn, the Commission would present a new proposal by the end of the year.
Forecasts on future volumes of e-waste also showed the importance of continuing to expand the circular economy, particularly in the field of e-waste recycling. The European Commission estimates that the amount of used electrical and electronic devices is likely to grow from currently 10 million tonnes to 12 million tonnes per annum by 2020. The recovery target previously set by the EU is four kilograms of e-waste per consumer or around two million tonnes per year.