Recycling electronic waste worth Billions to Europe

— 11.09.15

by Simon Spode

Recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) more effectively could be worth up to 3.7 billion euros to the European market as well as reducing environmental pollution, an award winning research paper has found.

Electronic waste equipment is currently considered to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world, with an estimated growth rate between three and five per cent each year.

Professor Lenny Koh from the Sheffield University Management School along with colleagues from the University of L’Aquila and Politecnico di Milano have recently published a paper entitled ‘Recycling of WEEEs: an economic assessment of present and future e-waste streams’.

Professor Koh, Director of Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC) and a world leading expert on low carbon supply chains, said: “We have been working on the collaborative research for several years with the University of L’Aquila and Politecnico di Milano. This builds from our prior research on turning waste into resource, resource efficiency and circular economy.

“In particular, this research has strong relevance to addressing global issues of materials availability and security, reducing reliance on unused non-renewable materials, especially precious, critical and rare earth materials in manufacturing for sustainability and for consideration for substitution.”

“The recycling of electronic waste could allow the diminishing use of virgin resources in manufacturing and, consequently, it could contribute in reducing environmental pollution.”

Professor Lenny Koh

It found that recycling electronic waste was equal to 2.15 billion euros in overall potential revenue to the European market in 2014 and could rise to 3.67 billion euros by 2020. As well as providing a significant source of revenue, more effective recovery of materials could benefit the environment by reducing manufacturers’ reliance on unprocessed resources.

The paper defined the potential revenues coming from the recovery of valuable materials in electronic waste, such as gold and platinum, in 14 electronic items including notebooks, monitors, smartphones, hard drives and tablets using current and future disposed quantities in Europe.

Professor Koh added: “The recycling of electronic waste could allow the diminishing use of virgin resources in manufacturing and, consequently, it could contribute in reducing environmental pollution.

“Given that EU has tried over the last two decades to develop a circular economy based on the exploitation of resources recovered by wastes, this research is key evidence to influence both industry and government on the financial and economic value of materials recovery of WEEE.”

With the development of new devices and electronic waste set to increase, the research highlights the need for manufacturers and recycling centres to work more closely together in order to recover more material from disposed equipment. It also recommends needed the development of more flexible recycling plants able to intercept different types of end-of-life products.

Following publication, the research has been granted the prestigious Atlas Award by academic publisher Elsevier. The award recognizes scientific research that has an impact on people around the world and is selected by an advisory board based on suggestions from the publishers of Elsevier’s 1,800 journals each month.

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