Electronic recycling

 

 “Electrical waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in Ireland. It is a source of valuable materials which can readily be recycled and which we must divert from landfill”, Minister Martin Cullen, 19 February 2003.

It has been estimated by a recent EPA study that between 1991 and 2005 between 505,000 and 1,040,000 tonnes of Waste from Electronic & Electrical Equipment (WEEE) will be produced. On the 13th of February this year, three new EU directives on the management of electronic and electrical (E & E) waste stream became EU law. These include:
  1. The WEEE directive.

  2.  The RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive.

  3. The EuE (framework for Ecodesign of End Use Equipment) directive.

There has been unprecedented growth in the market as we become increasingly reliant on electrical and electronic goods. The growth in sales of personal computers alone in Ireland has an annual growth rate of 20-30% thanks to the rapid technological changes and consequential average 5 year computer life spans. There has also been an increase in general electrical household items due to Irelands housing boom over the past number of years and the growth of disposable income.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES
Apart from the fines that will be levied if we do not reach our WEEE recycling targets, Ireland has to address its over reliance on the use of landfills as a method of waste management. Before the 1990’s most WEEE was disposed of in landfills along with our municipal waste stream. Its hazardous nature make it a very dangerous potential polluter as it contains noxious substances such as lead, cadmium and CFC’s (chloro-fluorocarbons).

“If more materials from end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment could be recycled in an environmentally satisfactory manner, emissions associated with extraction of raw materials would decrease and natural resources would be saved” (Swedish EPA, 1995).

INDUSTRY

There are approximately 20 companies in the country recycling WEEE. These vary from companies processing metal rich products like kitchen appliances to specialists who process televisions and computers who may seek to refurbish the product for resale.

LEGISLATION

The objective of the directive on WEEE is to “to protect soil, water and air from pollution, and to reduce the harmfulness of WEEE”. It is hoped to encourage manufactures to implement more environmentally conscious designs, promoting the substitution of hazardous substances.

EFFECT ON CONSUMER

The objectives can only be met if everyone disposing of WEEE does so in a responsible manner. People must handle their waste goods carefully as recycling firms cannot reuse badly broken equipment. A recent EPA survey found that items containing hazardous substances like florescent light bulbs and refrigerators are often broken before reaching the stage where the dangerous substances can be disposed safely. Many items can be refurbished and reused allowing for greater profitability within the industry.

IRELAND AT PRESENT

At present Ireland has an underdeveloped infrastructure for the collection and recycling of WEEE. An EPA survey states that approximately 70% of the Local Authorities that responded to the survey had some form of collection and separation of WEEE products. In order for Ireland to meet its WEEE targets it must first put in place an infrastructure for this to happen. Chief of the IBEC environment unit Donal Buckley highlights that ‘complying with this directive will have major financial and logistical implications for all manufacturers, distributors and retailers of electrical and electronic equipment in Ireland’

Dublin Corporation has proposed a partnership which will involve the local authority, a private sector recycling company, a social economy enterprise and a community project. The proposal aims to create a sustainable model and it is anticipated to be commercially viable as well as providing training and employment for disadvantaged people. Three first stage collection and treatment centres will be set up. These will be linked to a second stage “secure” disposal centre. Refurbishment will also allow distribution of low-cost equipment to low-income communities.

It is accepted that Ireland’s domestic recycling levels are poor, standing at just 7%. The Government must provide the funding for awareness campaigns to the general public to teach people the problems of WEEE.
At present the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Mr Martin Cullen T.D., in co-operation with IBEC, has established a Task Force to draw up proposals for implementing the Directives. ‘The goal of the task force, which consists of a wide range of experts from the manufacturing and retailer sectors, central and local government, and the EPA, is to develop an efficient system for the management of electrical waste in Ireland and to ensure the use of hazardous materials in electronic components is restricted.’

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