IERC 2015: Electronics recyclers gather in Austria

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Conference attendees toured two facilities and discussed market conditions during the annual international conference.

Innovative electronics recycling strategies, challenging market conditions and scrap exports were among the top discussion points at the International Electronics Recycling Congress (IERC) held in Salzburg, Austria, 21-23 January.

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According to the Switzerland-based event organizerICM, 500 recycling executives and 63 exhibitors attended the three-day industry meeting.

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The conference was accompanied by workshops and tours of the Montanwerke Brixlegg refinery and recycling plant and the Müller-Guttenbrunn recycling group, both in Austria.

ICM reports that due to the generally lower metal content in the waste and the decline in metal prices, market conditions for electronics recycling have deteriorated considerably. The result is the industry will need to find cheaper and more efficient ways of treating electronic scrap.

Sessions at the Congress also recognized that technologies to put this into practice are available, ICM reports. For example, a university professor from Taiwan presented a new chemical process for simply and effectively recovering gold from electronic devices. In total, around 20 speeches on innovative treatment technologies and covering subjects ranging from conventional electronic scrap to used lamps and refrigerators were given.

Presentations on escrap markets in Kenya, the United States and Eastern Europe also demonstrated that market conditions can vary greatly from country to country. In Germany, while 8.8 kilograms of electronic scrap were collected per capita in 2010, in Poland the figure was only 2.8 kilograms. Meanwhile, the country with the highest recovery level was Sweden with 15.9 kilograms collected per capita. That is why the establishing of efficient collection systems is one of the key prerequisites for globally successful electronics recycling, as several recycling experts stressed at the IERC event.

Another issue covered was the need for improved enforcement. In his presentation, David Higgins from the International Criminal Police Organization Interpol, spoke about the possibilities of tightening enforcement for scrap exports to prevent illegal exports. According to ICM, because of criminal business practices, recyclers may not be collecting the volumes needed to optimally use their treatment plants.

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The conference concluded with a panel discussion on the future of the circular economy. Panelists included Maria Banti with the Waste Management Unit, Environment Directorate General of the European Commission. Banti assured attendees that the EU Commission would soon be reaching a decision on its originally planned waste management legislation. She stated that even if it were to be withdrawn, the Commission would present a new proposal by the end of the year.

Forecasts on future volumes of electronic scrap also showed the importance of continuing to expand the circular economy, particularly for electronics recycling. The EC estimates that the amount of used electrical and electronic devices is likely to grow from 10 million metric tons today to 12 million metric tons per year by 2020. The recovery target previously set by the EU is 4 kilograms of electronic scrap per consumer, about 2 million metric tons per year.

Author Recycling Today Staff
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