Rediscovering Resources: Circularity In E-Waste Management
What is e-waste?
E-waste is an umbrella term used to describe battery or electricity-powered Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) which has either become obsolete or unrepairable and has reached its end-of-life. Globally, e-waste generation stands at an average of 7.3kg per capita. In 2019, 53.6 million metric tons (Mt) of e-waste was produced – a striking statistic not merely due to the high figures, but also because it has grown from just 9.2Mt in 2014. This figure is expected to grow about 74.7Mt by 2030. In particular, these numbers are worrying as e-waste is often treated improperly, which poses a significant loss of economic value while endangering the environment and public health.
Is e-waste really a resource?
To answer this question, let us take a closer look at e-waste. E-waste is not only the fastest growing domestic waste stream but it is a very valuable resource too. Within its components, we can find a lot of copper, gold, silver, palladium, plastics, base metals and other strategic & rare earth metals too! These can be extracted and returned to our supply chain as secondary raw material to reduce the mining of natural resources. In fact, the estimated worth of e-waste is USD $60 billion annually worldwide!
Factors contributing to the growth of e-waste
The consumption of EEE is strongly linked to widespread global economic development. Higher levels of disposable incomes, urbanization, frequent changes in technology and mobility, and further industrialization in emerging economies are leading to growing amounts of EEE. While electronics have become indispensable to modern societies and are enhancing living standards, their production and usage can be very resource-intensive, which is a trade-off to improvements in quality of life.
Impacts of informal handling
Old or unwanted electronic products are not hazardous per se as long as they are kept in a good condition. However, once they have reached their end-of-life, e-waste could pose a threat to the environment and human life if it is not recycled in an environmentally-sound manner. E-waste contains a few toxic elements and hazardous substances, such as lead, gallium, mercury, cadmium, selenium, chromium, brominated flame retardants (BFR), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). It is estimated that about 50 tons of Mercury and 71,000 tons of BFR plastic enters our environment illegally. These chemicals can cause serious threat to the environment and humans, by damaging many parts of the body including the nervous and immune system, kidney, heart and muscles.
The fact, however, remains that not all e-waste is properly recycled and converted into usable resources. Unfortunately, about 85% of the e-waste ends up in the grey market or in the hands of the informal sector who handle it in a primitive and traditional way. Thus, this results in a huge loss of resources and poses significant threat to the environment and human life.
Necessity for state-of-the-art technology and solutions
Despite the proliferation of various technologies to handle e-waste, these are often inadequate due to high costs and lack of process efficiency. Unlike other products, e-waste is quite complicated in nature, hence off-the-shelf solutions give less favourable results. Hence, real expertise, knowledge and understanding of the waste stream is required to customize state-of-the-art technologies or to find right technologies to transform the waste into resources. Additionally, recycling reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products.
Apart from technology, proper policy implementation and enforcement beyond the EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) and polluter’s pay principle should be implemented to achieve a successful circular economy in this context.
Major stakeholders of e-waste streams
Realising a circular economy concept is a shared responsibility for key stakeholders in the industry. They can be divided into producers / generators, consumers, authorities and recyclers. The four main streams are divided into a few sub-streams as shown below:
Circularity for sustainability
Among the various waste streams, e-waste is the only one which can be fully reused, repaired, refurbished, recovered and refined. The previous decades that have relied heavily on the linear model “Take, Make, Use and Throw” are coming to an end, whilst the circular model of reusing, reinventing, remarketing and recovery has been gaining traction.
The circular model requires support from all these stakeholders to achieve the end goal of a circular economy. Hence, every stakeholder of the system has a fundamental responsibility to act in the following ways:
(a) The producer is responsible for taking back the product after its end-of-life.
(b) The consumer is responsible for transferring the e-waste to the right and authorized formal recycler.
(c) The recycler is responsible for extending the life of e-waste in all possible ways before recycling it in an environmentally-friendly way.
(d) The authorities should engage all stakeholders to promote the “right way of recycling, traceability and closed-loop accountability”.
Finding ways to reuse these resources and prolonging their lifespan is essential to save the planet from virgin mining, as large amounts of natural resources are consumed to produce each milligram of raw material.
For instance, 1 ton (1000kg) of ore needs to be processed to produce just 1g of gold while a million cell phones contain
- 16,000kg of Copper
- 350kg of Silver
- 34kg of Gold, and
- 15kg of Palladium
In such an instance, pushing for proper ways to extend product life cycles will also further enhance sustainability efforts. Examples of efforts to do this include reusing these materials in new ways, as shown in the figures below.
How does VANS Chemistry contribute to the sustainable model for circular economy?
Vans Chemistry, a Singapore-based company, provides bridging solutions along with global expertise and advice in e-waste management, policy guidelines, technology development and R&D support through our knowledge platform. We believe that a one-size-fits-all approach is insufficient, so we customize the best solutions based on the nature of the e-waste.
Our key vision is to extract value from waste by extending the life of products and making valuable products from e-waste in line with our circular economy vision.
The Man Behind the Technology
His journey started in the 1990’s in precious metals management followed by establishing state-of-the-art, closed-loop e-waste recycling facilities with a clear objective of Zero Landfill & Zero Impact to Environment & Human Health.
Venkatesha Murthy (Venky) is the Founder and CEO of VANS Group of Companies from Singapore. He is passionate about the environment and social betterment and wants to transform the industry by implementing sustainable practices. He is an expert and global icon on ESM – Environmental Sound e-Waste Management, Policies, Technology and Global Compliances and has established many integrated and full-fledged e-Waste Recycling and Precious Metals refining facilities in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, USA, South Africa, China, Hong Kong, Iran, Indonesia, Philippines, PNP, Thailand, India and more
By : Venkatesha Murthy, M.Sc., M.Tech., MBA
Founder & CEO of Vans Chemistry Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Mobile : +65 98717295
Attend our upcoming webinar to learn more about the circular economy for electronics and hear more from Mr. Venky: