Products from El-Kretsen’s collection
Past analyses of the small electronics collected show that there is an understanding that it is waste, and nothing else, that is meant to end up in our collection containers. Around three per cent of the products we collect could be regarded as suitable for reuse after minor interventions like re-conditioning. However, this does not take into account the age of these products, and items that are 10-15 years old are not necessarily viable any more.
Another aspect to take into account is that the financial value of these second-hand products is often lower than the costs of repairing and marketing them.
Consequently, El-Kretsen’s best line of action is to keep communicating that any product that still works should not be put into our collection containers. We support – and indeed require – that all municipalities at their collection points actively promote the reuse of electrical products. For closer information on how your municipality has decided to deal with the issue of reuse, please refer to their website.
Having our own analysis facility enables us to analyse the products we collect. For example, we can identify trends and changes over time, material composition and the proportions of hazardous materials.
Reusing white goods
In the south of Sweden, El-Kretsen runs a joint project with a few municipalities and the companies Stena Recycling and Begagnade Vitvaror. The aim has been to identify potentially reusable products in the flow of white goods, fridges and freezers that arrive at the recycling centres.
Our goal was to make a smart sustainable effort from the very beginning:
- The handling should reduce the impact on resources and the climate.
- It should be done in a good way and the products should not risk ending up in an environment where the handling takes place in bad or dangerous working conditions.
- This reuse should finance itself.
The above three aspects have been born in mind throughout this process, from setting the goals to monitoring and evaluating the project.
After reconditioning and examination, the selected products have been sold primarily on European second hand markets, as there is not yet a well-established second hand market and little demand for these products in Sweden. So far, the products in question have mainly been sold on the Croatian second hand market. El-Kretsen has introduced a monitoring requirement to ensure that the receiving second hand dealers are part of an approved collection system and that the products are sold under guarantee.
In 2021, 9,264 products were handled. Of these, just under 50 per cent were exported, 15 per cent were sold on in Sweden and the remaining ones served as suppliers of spare parts.
Reusing whole products or components
The EU is working on “product passports” as a policy instrument for managing the circular value chain. The object is giving both producers and recyclers a better idea of the materials and components each product contains, as this information can be used in circular business models. These product passports could become a useful tool in El-Kretsen’s future efforts to obtain the greatest volumes of the purest materials possible from all the products we collect. We have still not decided exactly how we would use these product passports. They could, for example, be useful to remove components that have a significantly longer lifespan than the discarded product itself and that producers use widely in many different contexts. Another possible use would be as a guide when individual producers want to retrieve their own unique components for reuse.
Reusing hazardous waste
Fridges and freezers contain both metals and hazardous substances. Before they can be sent for recycling, any environmentally hazardous substances have to be removed, such as compressors containing oil as well as insulation materials with refrigerants. However, even items that are classed as hazardous waste in their current shape can be reused. For fridges and freezers, this is true both for the oil and for some of the refrigerant. In the pre-treatment process, a mixture of gases is collected. These are the gases that are released when emptying cooling coils and fragmenting refrigerating units. Cyclopentane, a kind of hydrocarbon, is separated and can then be reused as a raw material. The remaining gases are treated and turned into hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid and sold on as new products. The actual compressors are drilled open and the oil inside them can also be reused.
Even if the volumes we are talking about here are small in comparison to the total weight of the refrigerated items we handle, we regard these processes as having significant environmental gains.