Sales of electronics products continue to rise throughout the globe, fuelled by a significant decrease in the global commodities markets. Precious metals and metals prices have fallen, allowing manufacturers to increase their output whilst keeping production costs extremely low. Excellent news for consumers, but not the e-waste recyclers at the end of the line.
The continually decreasing manufacturing costs and increased availability of metal commodities on the market negatively affects the material value of many of the most popular – and therefore most commonly found e-waste products – electronic products and devices. Similarly, electronic product design trends toward smaller, more efficient products with less weight, less bulk, and generally less of anything worthwhile to recyclers.
The result is a global downturn in earnings for e-waste enterprises, with a particular focus on North America and Europe. Unfortunately, it isn’t an issue recycling larger volumes of e-waste can fix, as this only returns metal to the commodities markets – not that this will stop the recycling happening, but it could see some larger organisations lose out in the long-run.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. The International Electronics Recycling Congress 2016 took place in early January, and brought with it some important speeches to build industry confidence. Keynote speaker Dr Markus Laubscher, Circular Economy Program Manager at Royal Philips, emphasised his company’s commitment to the circular economy, but noted that to achieve their aims moving forwards, they, and the global e-waste industry would need stronger partners.
Delegates heard details of how the circular economy can thrive, so long as more recycling organisations began to connect with the major electronics manufacturers around the globe to reduce waste, but also begin to rebalance the decreasing material value of electronic waste and indeed, many speakers at the week-long event called on manufacturers to play a more significant role in the cycle.
For all the talk of a market under pressure, e-waste organisations must continue their research and development, pushing technological innovation for the entire industry. Many organisations are said to be increasing their efforts to increase material yield efficiencies, while others are focusing their efforts on improvements to e-waste treatment processes. If the industry as a whole can boost efficiency, yield, and treatment processes, downward pressure on commodities may well become less of an issue, at least in the short-term.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.