Electronics recycling comprises several end of life (EOL) processes, from disassembly to data destruction to metals salvage and other steps. Some companies are one-stop-shops, smelting, grinding plastics, recovering useable components, and reselling raw materials. Others partner with recyclers, perhaps performing data protection and initial disassembly then handing over waste to dedicated processing centers. Beyond this are a myriad of brokers, specialists, and other processing/resale points that can make the reverse logistics of EOL more complicated than the traditional assembly supply chain. It is through this multi-tiered network that broken computer parts become flower pots, for example.
Celestica is an EMS provider entrenched in the design, assembly, ship, and after-market support of electronics. However, as Mike Andrade, senior VP and GM, North America, Celestica, points out, the company is not a major physical recycler. Instead, they use their experience with supply chains to design a network of reverse supply chain partners. Today, Celestica handles initial breakdown of waste electronics for some customers and then sends the eWaste to certified recycling partners in the U.S. and Canada. As customer interest and the company's EOL management program grows, Celestica will work to expand with a secondary network of partners globally. “We’re in the middle, orchestrating sustainability, from design for environment (DfE) to EOL,” explains Andrade. Kimball Electronics, also an EMS provider, has a repair depot, which incorporates its recycling operations. The Kimball employees are especially trained in their products, more than a recycling partner can be, so they are uniquely able to manage eWaste components, including repairing parts to avoid recycling entirely.
Li Tong Group is a dedicated recycler based in Hong Kong. The company partners with EMS providers like Elcoteq and Foxconn globally. Electronics recycling can be done correctly and make money, if you have a long-term business model, say Li Tong’s Phil Cruickshan, director, ICT. The company generally buys waste electronic products, processes them down to the raw components, and resells these metals, plastics, etc. This is different than the traditional model of charging a rate or fee for electronics recycling services. Another key to their business model is global, long-term partnerships. Much like the long-term EMS/OEM partnership, this is based on trust, total costs, traceability, and a good track record.
For those about to enter the recycling field, either as a supervising partner or as an involved recycling company, the waters can be murky. Not only are there an estimated 1,100 small recyclers in the U.S., selling to a range of brokers, but the regulatory environment is fragmented and vague. While the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive gives EU recycling rules, these are still unclear in some areas and unenforced, or enforced without uniformity, across Europe. In other regions the laws are even less standardized and enforced. Regulations differ from state to state, says Ed Grimes of Kimball Electronics, and many of these regulations are changing. Without security and enforcement, “recycled” electronics end up in dumps in places like China and Pakistan, creating human-safety violations, fueling the counterfeit components trade, and damaging brand reputations. With electronics infiltrating new sectors, from children’s toys to displays on washing machines, eWaste recapture requires a wider net and serious supply chain management capabilities. Every piece of eWaste should, ideally, be accounted for and traced. Recyclers like Li Tong combine Social Accountability 8000 (SA8000) and OSHA compliance with extreme traceability and quality (IS0 9001) regulation to avoid these pitfalls.
Next week, the eWaste series concludes with a look at one OEM that is nearly 2 years into their environmental program. The company used internal (employee) and external (customer) input, along with green-program consulting from TFI to shape their program, and shares their perspective on starting the green program and where they plan to take it.
Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor
Read the rest of the series:
eWaste: Turning the EOL Burden into Profitable Revenue Streams
eWaste: Is Recycling a Value-add EMS?