Resource-Rich Countries Of The Future

The metal industry is a multi-faceted reality facing immense sustainability issues, with added concerns surrounding the depletion of technology metals. These metals are vital to the global economy since they are essential components in all high-tech electronic devices and cleantech applications, for domestic, commercial, industrial, and military use, worldwide. 

Depletion of technology metals could contribute to ecological, economic, and social deficits, with far-reaching global consequences. 

Metals are the dominant materials found in e-waste, representing approximately 60% of the total waste. E-waste comprises a multitude of items such as household appliances, IT equipment, monitors, tools, medical devices, and much more. 

Data indicates that 50+ million tonnes of e-waste are generated annually, along with $47 billion in losses from 82% of e-waste not being recycled. This scenario raises two very significant questions.

  1. What are the most urgent challenges that need to be addressed in this new landscape of sustainability and depleting resources?
  1. Which will be the resource-rich countries of the future?

Urgent Challenges For Metal Industry 

Many industrialized nations are now faced with the task of handling massive amounts of e-waste that is internally generated. Because these metals are integral parts of such a wide variety of products it makes recycling these a complex process, requiring manual disassembly in most cases, leading to illegal e-waste dumping, export, and recycling.

53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were generated globally in 2019. Only 17.4% of that was recycled. The 82% not recycled represents $47 billion in lost value from materials that could have been recovered, including cobalt, palladium, copper, and other minerals.

Sources: 2020 UN Global E-waste Monitor, GESP 2020 How E-waste Management Market Became a Highly Profitable Industry 2020: Revenue Analysis and Growth Opportunity, AP Newswire 2020.

E-Waste Management Value Chain 

In industrialized nations, recyclable metals are being accumulated. In developing nations, entirely new business opportunities are developing around merchandising, recycling, and reprocessing of WEEE from e-waste. Unfortunately, informal recycling of metal-containing products is also widespread, with all its ensuing problems. 

The e-waste management value chain involves a range of players responsible for the functioning of different stages of the process. 

Many current e-waste regulations are designed around the Extended Producer’s Responsibility concept, also known as the EPR concept, which aims to shift part of the waste management responsibilities, be these administrative, financial, and/or physical, from governments or municipalities & taxpayers to those that produce and sell products that are destined to become waste. 

This means the producer is also responsible for financing and organizing a system to meet the costs involved and consumers might eventually pay the end-of-life costs via an increase in product costs. 

The EPR concept focuses more on the responsibilities of producers, yet a successful e-waste management system involves stakeholders such as governments, municipalities, consumers, retailers, and treatment partners, who all have important roles to play. 

Stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities may differ from country to country, depending on-specific cultural, societal, economic, and other conditions, but the process and responsibilities are similar. 

Stakeholders Roles And Responsibilities

Courtesy of International e-Waste Management Practice Factsheet: Deepali Sinha Khetriwal Grishma Jain Final version 2021

Global Informal Recycling of E-Waste

80% of all e-waste, generated globally, is being informally recycled in developing countries.

According to a Central Pollution Control Board report, India generated 1,014,961.2 tonnes of e-waste containing 21 types of EEE in 2019-2020. 

Ninety-five percent of the e-waste in India is being recycled in the non-formal sector and only five percent of the e-waste volume is handled via formal units. In and around the metropolitan cities of India, there are over 3000 known units operating in the non-formal sector of e-waste recycling.

Informal recycling employs crude methods of recovery for valuable metals. Due to the lack of infrastructure, weak enforcement of legislation, and no adequate precautions, untrained workers are posing a risk to their health, working in poorly ventilated enclosed areas, without any protective equipment, while pollutants are being released into water sources and the land.

On the other hand, informal e-waste management, and recycling, in developing countries, have resulted in employment opportunities and satisfied the demand for affordable electronic devices.

The solutions are within our grasp and may very well lie within the biggest challenge that the metal industry is faced with today, the illegal e-waste export and handling of e-waste

How To Adress Illegal E-waste Export And Handling

When e-waste is not recycled, chemicals such as lead, mercury, polyfluoroalkyl substances, brominated flame retardants, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other persistent organic pollutants contaminate landfills, water supplies, and the land. 

Developing and marginally developed countries have become major repositories for e-products from developed countries. The situation calls for effective regulations covering the management, recycling, and disposal of e-waste.

Stakeholders must analyze e-waste stock, source of inflow, restrictions from formal and informal sectors to start with, along with enforcing regulations and compliance, in order to eradicate the health and environmental hazards of informal e-waste recycling.

E-Waste Legislation Guidelines

Existing e-waste legislation already in place in certain countries can be used as a guideline. The example below is based on Switzerland’s e-waste legislation

E-waste generated 201 kt (2019) 23.4 kg per capita – E-waste documented to be collected and recycled 123 kt (2017) – Product Scope: FULL – WEEE management principle EPR

Courtesy of International e-Waste Management Practice Factsheet: Deepali Sinha Khetriwal Grishma Jain Final version 2021

As indicated in the chart above, there are numerous factors that come into play:

  1. The legislation in place, if any
  2. The country’s legal definition of e-waste
  3. Obligations placed on the producers
  4. Products coming under the scope of the legislation
  5. Collection systems
  6. Recycling systems
  7. Financing mechanisms
  8. Targets
  9. Reporting systems 
  10. Standards/audits to comply with
  11. Monitoring systems
  12. Regulations with respect to transboundary movement of used EEE, and RoHS 

Aside from EPR, there are other models such as the Producer Responsibility Organization, (PRO), whereby compliance Scheme Producers can implement EPR  individually or collectively, either through a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) or a Compliance Scheme. A PRO can be for-profit as per ERP in Europe, or not-for-profit, as is the case with WEEE Forum systems. The PRO takes on the operational processes such as collection, transportation, environmentally sound recycling, and disposal of end-of-life products, to meet the EPR obligations

Ghana has implemented a WEEE management system based on Taxation. Producers and importers of EEE must pay an advance “eco-levy” to ensure the collection, treatment, recovery, and environmentally sound disposal of EEE. Producers and treatment facilities, therefore dismantlers & recyclers, are to ensure that a system has been put in place to provide for the treatment of the WEEE, using the best available technology and practices and ensure WEEE is treated at a treatment facility or exported by an approved exporter for treatment outside the country.

China has legislation based on EPR principles, however, they have no legal definition of e-waste included in the legislation nor are there rules governing the Transboundary movement of Used EEE.

India also has e-waste legislation, and while there is a provision for it, there is currently no specific standard set and no auditing regime in place

These are perfect examples of how important it is for all stakeholders to take responsibility for their role in assuring all legislation guidelines are set and met.

With proper handling and recycling of e-waste, countries that have been poor in primary materials, to date could become the resource-rich countries of the future, without causing further harm to the environment. 

Circular Economy Action Plan For Metal Industry

Creating a circular economy is part and parcel of the overall solution. In order for businesses to achieve a circular economy, they need to redefine growth and invest in business practices that benefit society as a whole.

The concept of circular economy is already firmly rooted at the center of both APEAL and the EU deal. The Circular Economy Action Plan also includes a ‘sustainable products’ policy applicable to materials such as steel.

  • Waste-to-value businesses generate revenues through the recovery, recycling, and selling of recyclable materials
  • The management of raw materials, wastes, and by-products is a sustainable form of business in support of a circular economy
  • The customization of products by turning metal waste into quality raw materials is a viable and revenue-earning solution 

Product Designs With A New Vision

Most e-waste management models around the world are based on the EPR concept which motivates the producers to reduce consumption of virgin materials. Designs with a new vision, are also needed. Designs that take into account not only the use of an object but its lifespan and recycling as well. 

Take for example IT products such as computers, whose estimated lifespan is from 3 to 5 years. In many instances, laptops are glued, or parts are soldered together, so that if one part breaks you’ll need to replace the unit. This is particularly frustrating and problematic when batteries need to be serviced or replaced. It should be possible to take PCs and mobile devices apart to replace vital components when needed, and companies should offer spare parts for several years even once the model has been discontinued. 

There are many things that can be done to produce sustainable IT products. Standardizing cables for IT products would mean fewer cables to be manufactured and this would allow their re-use on multiple products by consumers. Companies need to start designing products that are durable, upgradeable, repairable, and reusable.

The metal industry may be faced with multiple issues but the path is clear, all stakeholders need to be encouraged to commit to waste management, through recovery, recycling, and adhering to the principles of a circular economy.  

The resource-rich countries of the future will be those that work to overcome the challenges linked to waste management and recycling while focusing on business practices that benefit society as a whole

With proper handling and recycling of e-waste, countries that have been poor in primary materials, to date could become the resource-rich countries of the future, without causing further harm to the environment. 

Circular Economy Action Plan For Metal Industry

Creating a circular economy is part and parcel of the overall solution. In order for businesses to achieve a circular economy, they need to redefine growth and invest in business practices that benefit society as a whole.

The concept of circular economy is already firmly rooted at the center of both APEAL and the EU deal. The Circular Economy Action Plan also includes a ‘sustainable products’ policy applicable to materials such as steel.

  • Waste-to-value businesses generate revenues through the recovery, recycling, and selling of recyclable materials
  • The management of raw materials, wastes, and by-products is a sustainable form of business in support of a circular economy
  • The customization of products by turning metal waste into quality raw materials is a viable and revenue-earning solution 

Product Designs With A New Vision

Most e-waste management models around the world are based on the EPR concept which motivates the producers to reduce consumption of virgin materials. Designs with a new vision, are also needed. Designs that take into account not only the use of an object but its lifespan and recycling as well. 

Take for example IT products such as computers, whose estimated lifespan is from 3 to 5 years. In many instances, laptops are glued, or parts are soldered together, so that if one part breaks you’ll need to replace the unit. This is particularly frustrating and problematic when batteries need to be serviced or replaced. It should be possible to take PCs and mobile devices apart to replace vital components when needed, and companies should offer spare parts for several years even once the model has been discontinued. 

There are many things that can be done to produce sustainable IT products. Standardizing cables for IT products would mean fewer cables to be manufactured and this would allow their re-use on multiple products by consumers. Companies need to start designing products that are durable, upgradeable, repairable, and reusable.

The metal industry may be faced with multiple issues but the path is clear, all stakeholders need to be encouraged to commit to waste management, through recovery, recycling, and adhering to the principles of a circular economy.  

The resource-rich countries of the future will be those that work to overcome the challenges linked to waste management and recycling while focusing on business practices that benefit society as a whole

Published by Maddalena Di Gregorio

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” Robert L. Stevenson

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