The recycling situation in Sweden does not reflect the situation in the rest of the world. Globally, every year some 40 million tonnes of electric and electronic waste ends up being handled outside an official recycling system. Some of this waste is probably handled in a good, environmentally sound manner but there is also evidence that this is by no means always the case. Some obvious examples of this are informal recycling sectors, illegal trading and countries lacking the necessary legislation.
At present, there are only 41 countries in the world with laws relating specifically to electric and electronic waste. However, the number is going up. At El-Kretsen, we have notice an increased interest from all over the world in how we in Sweden work with these issues. Maybe our best chance of supporting our future environment is by spreading the “know-how” we have gained from working with our recycling system, even though it is small in a global context. Our wish is to contribute to countries with much larger volumes than Sweden so that they can make palpable environmental gains once producer responsibility and a more controlled recycling process has come into place.
Seeing the capacity for change is much more easily done when you have a grasp of what things look like today. But how does anyone get that grasp when dealing with an issue which is largely unregulated and where the statistical reporting is lacking? The United Nations University (UNU), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) took it upon themselves to improve the situation and have now published the report “The Global E-Waste Monitor 2017”. This is the most conclusive report of its kind to date and it provides detailed and extensive information. The aim of the report was to provide information on flows, volumes and trends in order to make it easier to apply the correct measures for moving towards sustainability.
Looking at our own business, we are continuing our journey towards more circular flows. In 2017, 134 187 tonnes of materials were collected and are right now in the process of being turned into new products. From a life-cycle perspective, we know that carbon dioxide emissions are small during the recycling phase. Sometimes as low as 1 percent of the product's total carbon dioxide emissions. The production phase, however, accounts for often up to 80 percent. Naturally, there are also other aspects to take into account, but this is reason enough in itself for us to make sure that we reuse recycled materials to as large an extent as possible. It is an effective way to reduce a product's total carbon dioxide emissions. Together with our partners, our task is to collect, sort and allocate the recycled materials so that they can be recycled for reuse. At the moment, our work does not reflect the situation in the rest of the world – but we are working towards that!
Martin Seeger, CEO at El-Kretsen
The Green Electronics Summit
The Green Electronics Summit was a two-day event in the Stockholm archipelago last spring. The conference focused on producer responsibility, electric and electronic products and electric and electronic waste. The participants were introduced to a number of different and exciting projects, all centred around sustainability and geared at furthering developments in this field. Between the presentations there was time for the participants to talk, and we were able to learn more about topics as diverse as conflict minerals and sorting machines. El-Kretsen enjoyed the wide range of participants from different sectors: recyclers, municipalities, producers and researchers, to mention but a few. Everyone has a contribution to make based on their particular perspective, and we believe firmly in gathering everyone under the same roof.
Click here to see the programme from 2017 (in Swedish).
Welcome back to the Green Electronics Summit in 2019!
A meeting place for players in the electronics industry
El-Kretsen has moved beyond being merely a service organisation for recycling activities. The environmental issues associated with producer responsibility are too complex to be limited to recycling. A tangible example of this is the fact that the ordinance on electrical and electronic equipment is now being reworked to include the Eco Design Directive. This is why El-Kretsen, to our delight, has become a natural meeting place for everyone in the electronics industry who is affected by all the issues relating to producer responsibility, from production and legislation to collection and recycling.
Large global interest in El-Kretsen
There is a lot of interest in our business outside Sweden as well. Our high recycling levels and our efficient system attracts those who want to learn more. These are often countries who are close to introducing producer responsibility themselves. In 2017, we hosted delegations from Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Singapore and Japan. The most far-reaching co-operation so far has been with Brazil, where El-Kretsen at the request of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency visited Brasilia to be able to offer more specific information on all angles of producer responsibility and how various practical details have been solved in Sweden. Our aim was to provide good (and bad) examples as a contribution in the ongoing discussions between the country’s Ministry of the Environment, the body corresponding to the Swedish EPA, and the industry/producers. Sweden is too different from Brazil for solutions to be directly adopted, but there is no doubt that they will still be able to benefit from our experience and the knowledge we have gained since 2001.
A visit from India
In the spring, El-Kretsen had a visit from Harveen Kaur, a post-graduate student from the University of Delhi. She wanted to get a better understanding of how the collecting and recycling of electronics works in Sweden. Waste management in India faces huge challenges to make it cleaner and safer. Today, virtually all electric and electronic waste is managed by the unofficial sector, which makes any follow-up reporting very difficult. But as many as the challenges are, as great is the will to make a change. You can read more about this in Harveen's report from her time spent in Sweden.
Procurement for the collection of white goods and fridge/freezers
At El-Kretsen, we work actively and constantly to improve our logistics efficiency ratio. Since this benefits both our economy and the environment, we regard this as a win-win scenario. In 2017, we initiated a procurement process regarding fridges, freezers and other white goods with the aim of streamlining logistics by picking up fridges, freezers and other white goods at the same time. The procurement was very successful and the outcome is that we will now be able to co-ordinate transport from most of the Swedish recycling centres. In Stockholm, we’re also trying out a set-up where fridges, freezers and other white goods will be sorted and disassembled in one and the same place. This is work in progress, and we are looking forward to the conclusive report at the end of the test period. And then, we will get back to you!
Collected and recycled in 2017
Collected in tonnes
The collection is divided into five different fractions: Assorted electrical goods; Large white goods; Fridges and freezers; Batteries; Lighting. The last group is collected in two vessels depending on whether it is fluorescent lamps or other light sources.
Collected in comparison
We report the collected and processed quantities, divided into 10 categories, to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket). The table below is a comparison for the last three years.
Material content per fraction
The products we collect are sorted, disassembled and fragmented to get as clean material streams as possible. With the help of more detailed analyzes, we also have knowledge of materials and substances that occur, albeit in small quantities.
The diagrams show an average level of recycling in percent based on 1,000 kg for each material.
* Non-recyclable materials primarily means residual products from the recycling process, e.g. slag after incineration.
** Televisions and monitors are not included in this table
*** Low-energy bulbs, fluorescent tubes and mercury bulbs.
**** The batteries category merges all types of batteries with different chemical compositions.
Assorted electrical goods
These account for over half of the total weight of electrical products recycled. The category includes televisions, mobile phones, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, toys and tools. Many of the products are handled by automated processes, while others require specialist processing. TVs, for example, have to be processed manually. Some products contain components such as batteries and capacitors, which must be disassembled for mechanical processing. Once the environmentally hazardous substances have been removed, the metal parts can be recycled. Copper, aluminium and iron are recycled at smelters. The circuit boards in computers, mobile phones and other IT products contain small quantities of precious metals such as gold and silver, which are also recovered and reused as raw materials in new products. Textiles, wood and plastics that cannot be recycled are incinerated at special plants. The heat is then used for district heating and to produce electricity. The exhaust gases are cleaned and any pollutants captured.
Large white goods
These are primarily dishwashers, washing machines and cookers. They may contain capacitors that use environmentally hazardous substances such as PCBs. Particular parts are therefore removed by hand before the white goods are pulled apart in a fragmenting plant that separates out the metals. The various metals are then recycled for use in new products. White goods mostly contain steel, but also have some aluminium and copper in them.
Fridges and freezers
Old fridges and freezers contain CFCs that contribute to the greenhouse effect and destroy the ozone layer. The CFCs are therefore processed in two stages. First, the cooling system is punctured and the refrigerant sucked out with a vacuum. Then the compressor is disassembled and emptied of oil. In the second stage the products are crusched in a closed process in order to deal with the CFCs in isolation. Once the CFCs and oil have gone, the metals and plastics are separated out for recycling into new products. The CFCs are destroyed at extremely high temperatures or converted into saltwater.
This category includes all types of small bulbs. Fluorescent tubes and low-energy bulbs are lined with phosphor powders that contain mercury. It is important to process the mercury safely. This is done by separating the mercury from the phosphor powder. The process is carried out exclusively by Veolia Recycling Solutions in Hovmantorp, where El-Kretsen sends all the light bulbs and tubes that it collects. The bulbs are crushed in a closed system and then washed in a fluid that oxidises and binds the mercury. The phosphor powder and mercury are separated from the fluid and captured in closed containers. The cleaned glass is then sent for glass recycling. Metal and electrical waste is sent to specialist recycling companies that recycle metals and plastics. Filament bulbs and LED bulbs are also handled as part of the same process.
There are many different types of batteries. The chemical content of the battery determines the choice of recycling method. All the batteries deposited at the 10,000 or so collection points must therefore be sorted. This takes place at two plants, one in Karlskoga and one in Gothenburg. The sorted batteries are then sent to recycling plants, where the materials and substances in them are recovered, including lead, nickel and cobalt. Integral batteries removed from various electrical products are also recycled at these plants. The material in the majority of batteries is recycled through smelting and distillation.
Catchment areas 2017
Recycling is split into five different categories, or segments. The maps below show where the electrical goods collected in each segment are dealt with and by which partner.
All collected lighting is recycled by Veolia Recycling Solutions: Hovmantorp, Sweden.
Branschorganisationen Svensk Elektronik
CANT – Centrala Antennföreningen
EHL – Elektriska Hushållsapparat Leverantörer
E.L. – Elmateriel Leverantörernas förening
IT & Telekomföretagen
KEPA – Branschföreningen för Kontorsartiklar, Emballage, Pappersprodukter & Angränsande produktområden
LEH – Leverantörsföreningen för Elektriska Handverktyg
Lek & Babybranschen
Leverantörsföreningen för Primärbatterier
LLB – Branschföreningen Ljud, Ljus & Bild för professionellt bruk
NSA - Nordic Safety Association
Sveriges Verktygsmaskinaffärers Förening
Stiftelsen Branschorganisationernas Kansli
Customers totally – 1871
Electrical goods customers – 1765
Affiliation contracts for electricals, WEEE Directive.
Battery customers – 1064
Affiliation contracts for batteries, Battery Directive
Reporting agreement electrical goods – 1582
Reporting agreement batteries – 970
Reporting agreements whereby El-Kretsen makes the annual report to the Swedish Enviromental Protection Agency
AR customers – 102
Reporting agreements Authorised Representative
Mats Holme, deputy Chairman