With Material Value Dropping, Charge-Based Recycling is on the Horizon

As local governments throughout the country continue to pass on the higher costs of recycling to taxpayers, counting on curbside pickup may soon be a concept of the past … and the solution could lead to an entire industry model shift.

With quicker upgrade cycles, increased battery adoption, and more advanced electronics, the landscape of recycling is rapidly shifting. The cost to responsibly break down the materials in consumer technology has changed year-over-year. According to a 2019 survey of local recycling programs, The Recycling Partnership determined the average processing fee is nearly $64 per ton. Those fees have gone up over the past year by nearly $29 per ton.

While the industry largely doesn’t offer curbside currently, it’s the right time for this discussion and for people to understand the reasons there needs to be a charge-based model for recycling. The electronics recycling sector has seen tremendous growth of the past decade processing more than 5 million tons of electronics a year and employing more than 45,000 workers. Sunnking alone has been able to demanufacture and recycle nearly 186 million pounds of material since 2010.

To date, electronics recycling companies have been able to break down most assets free of charge, however, due to drastic shifts in markets like LCD resale and reuse, they’ve been forced to adjust their pricing going forward. Further exacerbating the issue is battery containing devices. Large volumes of consumer electronics like stereo receivers, DVD players, tablets, lab equipment, handhelds, etc. cannot be dismantled by hand in an economically viable fashion. As such, these items need to go through automated processing (shredder) equipment, however, they must have any batteries removed prior to being processed. This process is slow, labor intensive and has led to increased costs.

Recycling has become even more difficult after China imposed the National Sword program in 2018 that saw them stop accepting many types of materials the U.S. had been previously sending.

There’s a fine line between having to abide by the responsible recycling regulations in place (and the ones still to come) and the ability to afford to remain compliant. Change is certainly in the air, and it’s going to cost more out-of-pocket in the long term.

Provided by Adam Shine, Sunnking, Inc.

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