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E-Scrap Conference Covers the Reuse, Recycling Gamut

The E-Scrap 2017 conference, held Sept. 18-20 in Orlando, Fla., featured four plenary sessions and at least nine concurrent workshops covering all aspects of electronics repair, refurbishment, and recycling.

EScrap2017ISRI&RIOSStaffThe annual event also offered a bustling exhibit hall showcasing more than 130 companies and organizations—including ISRI and RIOS--as well as live demonstrations on how to dismantle certain electronic products.

Common themes across the workshops included the market effect of China’s import ban on scrap plastics; safety concerns regarding the proliferation of batteries in electronics devices; questions about the profitability of handling low-grade and smaller electronic products; and how to keep electronic products out of the shredder to boost reuse and refurbishment while satisfying data-security requirements.

With China foremost in the minds of E-Scrap attendees, Elwin Meng of Umicore (Shanghai) provided a crash course on that country’s approach toward “waste electrical and electronic equipment,” or WEEE.  Currently, China has 109 certified WEEE dismantlers, with the top three companies handling about 40 percent of the e-scrap volume generated in the country, he said. China generates an estimated 4.39 kg of WEEE per capita, and it has 4 million tons of e-processing capacity, although it currently collects only about 1 million tons of WEEE, Meng said. China’s WEEE system faces its share of challenges, he added, noting that six Chinese government agencies oversee WEEE management—an inefficient process—and that China has cut the WEEE subsidy it was paying to the country’s recyclers.

In a workshop examining how to maximize the value of recovered electronics, one panelist claimed that 30 to 35 percent of retired electronic equipment can be refurbished, which yields a higher return than recycling the equipment for its commodity value. Even though many electronics could be refurbished, the customer is the one who decides whether it can be put back into use, with privacy and data-security concerns preventing many products from getting reused. Even when products can be reused, there are challenges in that “what you have today will be worth less tomorrow” due to the rapid obsolescence cycle in the electronics market, one panelist said. Going forward, e-recyclers face ongoing challenges finding a profitable way to handle new electronic devices, often having to figure out how best to handle such products on the fly. “You’re doing R&D in real time,” a panelist observed.

Certifications also were a topic of conversation at the E-Scrap show, with Kevin Dillon of ERI (Fresno, Calif.) noting the numerous certifications his company must secure to meet customer demands. While such certifications are good in general, he said, “all of us can’t go broke on certifications.” To improve the situation, he suggested developing different certifications for electronics processors, collectors, and refurbishers since they are distinct sectors with significant differences in their operations. He also pointed to the need to educate customers about the certifications because they have limited understanding of what each certification means.

In the workshop on how e-recyclers can make the most of communications and messaging, Kent Kiser, Scrap publisher and ISRI assistant vice president of industry communications, offered advice on how to connect with editors to gain positive coverage. For greatest success, e-recyclers must do their homework by reviewing the publications they want to target, understanding the audience of each publication and providing content that offers useful, valuable information to that audience. Submitting company news items is a good way to forge a connection with a publication, one that can lead to future feature opportunities, Kiser said. E-recyclers also can offer to serve as expert sources on electronics recycling issues for publications or provide columns/featurettes on timely topics as a way to get their foot in the door, Kiser noted.

The E-Scrap 2018 conference will be held Oct. 9-11 in New Orleans. For more information, visit e-scrapconference.com

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