Killing the e-Waste Industry
Killing the e-Waste Industry
The last several months have been incredibly hard on the electronics recycling industry in the United States. This shifting economics on the e-waste industry has forced many electronics recyclers to rethink their business model, opt-out of the e-cycling business, or revert to unethical practices of handling and disposing of e-waste.
In the article, In Our Opinion: End-of-life support, Barbara Kyle and Sarah Westervelt discuss the primary reasons the electronics recycling business is in crisis:
Global commodity prices tanked
While the prices for metals and plastics that a recycler can recover from electronics were already low in the last few years, the bottom recently dropped out of these markets. This has dried up the primary source of income for most electronic recycling businesses, many of which had stopped charging customers upfront for electronics recycling services back when commodity values were high and manufacturers and other customers wanted to pay little to nothing for recycling.
The commodities crash is partly due to China’s overproduction and slowing economy, which have reduced demand for recycled materials in manufacturing and pushed the price of steel lower than the price of cabbage, according to a Sydney Morning Herald story last July.
The low commodities prices are also due to the continued drop in oil prices. Crude oil prices have fallen 70 percent since 2014, taking with them the prices for virgin plastics and other materials. This development has caused the market for recycled plastics to begin to evaporate. Some recyclers have been told they may need to actually pay to get rid of e-plastics in the near future rather than selling them as commodities.
Little value in consumer products
The second factor leading to e-scrap profitability struggles can be seen by simply disassembling many of the most common items in the stream today. A great number of electronic products now cost recyclers more to disassemble and process than they can earn by selling the commodities. Costs build up in labor, hazards, transportation, security and more. Some in the industry say it’s now impossible for a recycler to remain viable if its business model focuses solely on shredding or disassembling end-of-life consumer electronics as opposed to refurbishment.
The least cost effective electronics items to recycle are CRT’s, mercury-containing flat-panel TVs, TV monitors, peripherals, tablets and smartphones.
The third reason for the electronics industry hardship is manufactures simply won’t pay the whole recycling cost to cover the products they are responsible by law to cover. Manufactures also undercut the cost of recycling large quantities to the lowest recycling bidder.
The electronics recycling industry must survive. We have a national problem of huge and hazardous e-waste stream without a national system in place for dealing with it.
And due to changes in the global economy, the scrap electronics recycling industry is now being crushed.
We can’t let that happen. The e-scrap industry is providing an environmental and data security service, and companies in the sector must be able to set their prices in order to stay alive, protect their workers and reduce impacts on the global environment we all depend on.