Recycling - From E-Waste To Resources
United Nations Environment Programme - July 2009.
The appropriate handling of electronic waste (e-waste) can both prevent serious environmental damage but also recover valuable materials, especially different types of metals such as aluminium, copper, palladium and gold. This publication focuses on the significance and possibilities of getting resources back out of e-waste trough a sustainable technology transfer in the field of recycling. It provides an analysis of the transfer potential of relevant technologies in the recycling sector in selected developing countries. Hazardous elements present in e-waste are duly considered, and their proper handling and treatment is addressed to prevent environmental or health impacts. Read the full report
Sustainable Innovation, understood as the shift of sustainable technologies, products and services to the market, requires a market creation concept and one common global agenda. The challenge is to raise awareness among all actors of the different sectors in order to realize the innovation potential and to shift to eco-innovations that lead to sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Throughout this study prepared within the "Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative" the focus lies on a consistent set of different types of metals (ferrous and non-ferrous metals) such as aluminium (Al), copper (Cu), palladium (Pd) and gold (Au). Toxic and hazardous elements are present in e-waste, which are partially drivers for the implementation of sound collection and treatment processes. Therefore in the discussion of recycling technologies, the proper handling and treatment of such harmful elements to prevent environmental or health impact is included. Furthermore, the use and generation of toxic/hazardous substances during e-waste processing (for example, a mercury-gold amalgam or combined dioxins from inappropriate incineration) is critically evaluated with respect to the sustainability criteria for innovative technologies.The study, structured in three parts, has the following three main objectives:
- Analysis of the market potential of relevant technologies for the e-waste recycling sector in selected developing countries,
- Examination of the application of the 'Framework for UNEP Technology Transfer Activities in Support of Global Climate Change Objectives' in order to foster the transfer of innovative technologies in the e-waste recycling sector,
- Identification of innovation hubs and centres of excellence in emerging economies relevant for e-waste recycling technologies.
After an introduction to the objectives, scope and methodology of this study, the second chapter introduces the fundamentals of e-waste recycling, including:
- Significance of e-waste for resource management and toxic control,
- Structure and main steps in the recycling chain,
- Basic objectives to achieve for e-waste recycling,
- Innovation criteria for evaluation of technologies.
- Treat the hazardous fractions in an environmentally sound manner,
- Recover valuable material maximally,
- Create eco-efficient and sustainable business,
- Consider social impact and local context.
The general criteria to specific requirements for separation and dismantling of e-waste are given and sustainability attributes used as innovation criteria and to compare current and innovative technologies are divided into economic, environmental and social aspects.
In the third chapter available pre-processing technologies are described respectively in three categories of waste equipments: (i) cooling and freezing (C&F) appliances, (ii) information and communication technologies (ICT) appliances and (iii) monitors and televisions (TVs). End-processing technologies are depicted for printed wiring boards and small electronic devices, metallic fractions with precious metals, other metallic fractions, and aluminium, ferrous and lead containing-glass from cathode ray tubes (CRT).
Current e-waste generation volumes for the selected 11 developing countries have been estimated, based on the e-waste data of personal computers, printers, mobile phones, televisions and refrigerators. Future generation of e-waste is estimated accordingly. It is indicated from the prediction that on average, a linear increase has been found for personal computers (PCs), TVs and refrigerators among the selected countries, while mobile phone sales and stocks showed an exponential growth in the past years.The market potential is estimated as a function of possible volumes of e-waste available for recycling and the typical size of a recycling facility adapting a specific technology. Market potential of innovative pre-processing technologies are evaluated within the three criteria of (i) manual dismantling/ sorting of fractions, (ii) de-gassing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)/hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs) and (iii) semi-automatic CRT cut and cleaning for the selected 11 countries. Market potential of innovative end-processing technologies is assessed by the criteria of integrated smelter for non-ferrous (pyrometallurgical methods) and aluminium smelter/refiner for the target countries. By examining the actual performance of the recycling chains of both informal and formal recyclers in the selected countries, it has been shown that sustainable technologies exist as a result of individual or corporate initiatives. On the other hand a number of inefficient and unsustainable operations, which lack environmental, health and safety (EHS) standards and best practices, could have potential for future implementation of innovation technologies.
By examining the respective scale of the informal and formal sectors in the selected countries, the 11 countries have been grouped into three categories. Group A (Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Peru) is classified as promising for the introduction of innovative preprocessing technologies with a strong support in capacity building. Group B (India, China) is classified as having a significant potential for the introduction of pre- and end-processing technologies with a strong support in capacity building in the informal sector. Group C (South Africa, Morocco, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil) is classified as having a significant potential to adapt pre- and to some extent end-processing technologies to their own needs, following a technology and knowledge exchange.
Barriers for the transfer of sustainable e-waste recycling technologies have been identified for each of the target countries for the different dimensions: (i) policy and legislation, (ii) technology and skills and (iii) business and financing. The listed barriers are also hindering the implementation of sustainable e-waste management systems in the countries under analysis.By following the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) "Framework for Analysis: Technology Transfer to address Climate Change", South Africa and China are selected to introduce the strategic technology transfer programme for sustainable e-waste recycling technologies in the fourth chapter.
South Africa and China are identified to be promising examples for the application of the UNEP technology transfer framework. South Africa features advanced framework conditions with a strong engagement of the manufacturers and importers industry in e-waste management. China features large volumes and a large interest in e-waste recycling by the informal and the formal sector which defines a vibrant selection of technology transfer opportunities.
A technology transfer demands for a comprehensive framework considering all issues around (i) policy and legislation, (ii) technology and skills and (iii) business and financing in order to be sustainable. In this respect potential barriers for the introduction of innovative technologies and intervention mechanisms, which correspond directly and indirectly to the aforementioned technology transfer issues, were identified and discussed. Regarding policy and legislation, the main barriers originate from the lack of specific legal frameworks, low national priority for the topic, conflicting existing legislation and uncoordinated enforcement of the law. With regard to technology and skills, barriers are primarily defined through the lack of EHS standards, the strong influence of the informal sector, the lack of collection infrastructure, cherry-picking activities and low skills and awareness. Additional barriers assigned to business and financing topics include limited industry responsibility, high costs of logistics, possible exploitation of workers from disadvantaged communities, crime and corruption and false consumer expectations.Within the fifth chapter existing innovation hubs and knowledge centres of excellence in emerging economies have been identified in perspectives of involving stakeholders and their roles in influencing policy, research and industrial development. Relevant framework conditions and instruments for the development of these hubs and the barriers preventing the replication of locally developed technologies are analysed.
Due to the lack of awareness for e-waste recycling in emerging economies, innovation hubs and centres of excellence have not yet been established. However some organizations are currently establishing their e-waste competence and have a great potential to develop into innovation hubs. The current situation in China, India and South Africa indicate that smaller and less complex economies such as South Africa improve faster in awareness and competence.
Crucial instruments and framework conditions for the development of innovation hubs include the possibility to participate in international knowledge partnerships programmes. It also has been seen that without clear legal framework and active participation of the government the development of innovative technologies is hampered. The future success of technological innovation in environments with strong informal participation strongly depends on alternative business models with financial incentives, which allow the informal sector to still participate with "safe" recycling processes, while hazardous operations are transferred to state-of-the-art formal recyclers. The development of innovation hubs also demand for a fair, competitive environment with common rules, clearly favouring the development and application of innovative technologies.