WITH A NEW PFR INITIATIVE, THE SERVICE LIFE OF ELECTRONIC WASTE WILL REACH NEW LEVELS
In order to increase the reuse of white goods, Elretur has launched a new strategy for Preparation for Reuse (PfR). This will support Denmark’s ambitions for a strong circular economy.
When you take a refrigerator to the recycling centre, almost all the materials are recycled to make new products. But before that becomes a necessity, as many items as possible should be reused. This means that the item should re-emerge in the same shape, and serve the same function, as before. Elretur has therefore launched a Preparation for Reuse (PfR) scheme to ensure that Danish products achieve extended life cycles. This means that products should be prepared through inspection, cleaning or repair and warranty. Thus, no additional pre-treatment is needed, as would be the case if the products were to take on new forms and functions. Elretur will now make all this possible with two ‘first treatment facilities’ – the first of their kind in Denmark.
With its new PfR strategy, which has required much analysis and extensive dialogue with many stakeholders and partners, Elretur now has a national plan for PfR. This will ensure that electronic waste is given far more years of life. It’s a quantum leap in waste sorting, as products might as well benefit consumers, and thus the climate, through reuse.
Limiting resource consumption is essential to achieving sustainable development
Limiting our consumption of resources is crucial to achieving sustainable development. We need to produce with fewer resources and reuse more. Recycling all the materials we have already extracted could reduce the consumption of new materials.
According to the Government’s Advisory Board for Circular Economy, it is time to transform the current linear economy into a circular economy. That is, an economy where we keep products and materials in circulation and exploit their value for as long as possible. What used to be waste will, to a far greater extent, become valuable input into new products. This requires a paradigm shift, and it is the ambition of the Advisory Board that Denmark should become a pioneer in this transition by rethinking the way we design, produce and consume.
Developing new solutions and building know-how that we can export will give Danish companies a competitive advantage and open up new markets.
Elretur’s new PfR strategy should be seen in this context, and as a natural step in relation to social developments, as we are all focused on the climate. At the same time, it comes in the wake of a number of experiments to increase reuse. At Elretur, we believe we have made so much progress that it now makes sense to invest in these facilities and support a circular transition, where we get more reuse of materials, promote repair and new business models, and create opportunities for recycling products that cannot be reused. All of which contribute to reducing global CO2 emissions caused by the extraction and processing of materials.
Possibility of improving reuse of refrigerators sevenfold
Danish consumers are replacing white goods like never before – often in connection with moving.
And this means that today more than 24,500 units of white goods are collected for scrap. Of this, approx. 430 tonnes is reused with minimal repair – or just inspection. Using the new PfR facilities, Elretur expects to increase reuse sevenfold to around 3,500 tonnes. Now, for example, it will be possible to reuse seven times as many white goods as before. This is a really big step for our waste sector.
The PfR plan has been developed with substantial insights from a number of projects where Elretur has taken reusable products from the WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) returned to recycling centres and then let repairers repair and sell them on the Danish – or EU internal – market. In the future, this sorting will take place in so-called first treatment facilities, where there will be a structured approach to sorting that allows control of operator access to the WEEE, thus setting minimum requirements for resold products in terms of quality, repair, warranty and traceability.
A treatment facility that will set new standards for reuse
In about one in ten cases, white goods returned for scrap can be reused with minimal repair. And at a time of major focus on the climate and CO2 savings, this is one of the low-hanging fruits that Denmark can advantageously pick.
Elretur shares with the authorities a desire to contribute to greener production and ensure producer responsibility through a collective scheme that systematically extends the life of products such as white goods. And with our first treatment facilities, this will now be an opportunity to strengthen Denmark’s circular economy.
In the First Treatment initiative, Elretur is joined by Stena Recycling and H.J. Hansen Recycling, both of which are experienced environmental treatment companies and major operators in the market. Together, they have decided to prepare the establishment of first treatment facilities in Eastern and Western Denmark, respectively. The plants could be ready as early as 2022. The investment, estimated to be in the order of millions of kroner, will address a task that goes beyond the responsibilities imposed on producers by the producer responsibility. The parties want to use their combined skills to take on further social responsibility for the climate and environmental impact of electrical and electronic products.
This is not a responsibility that Elretur has been charged with. But it is a task Elretur is taking on because it is the right thing to do, and because we can see that we can get one step closer to the core of the circular economy by extending the life of products. At the same time, Elretur is preparing accurate calculations of the CO2 savings that the new facilities will generate. As a rule of thumb, avoiding buying a new product by reusing an existing one saves 70% of CO2 emissions on average.
With first treatment facilities, we can recover important resources for society by sorting and putting back into operation materials that would otherwise be scrapped. Recycling is fine, but we need to go more towards reusing products and move higher up the waste hierarchy.
First treatment facilities can increase reuse by pooling efforts, making it easier to ensure the right flows with the right sorting, assessment and logistics that can get many more products back into use. It’s a win-win-win for society and consumers.
Reuse market opens up
Reuse will involve both the repair and reuse of whole appliances and the reuse of components.
There are already more products suitable for reuse than Danes are currently prepared to buy. That is why it makes sense to reuse components. It is not uncommon for reused components and materials to be incorporated into new products, e.g. in the automotive industry.
However, Elretur expects the market for reused electronic products to develop in the coming years, both as a result of the new PfR facilities and the increased supply of products that can be purchased with warranty and right of complaint, e.g. from a repairer.
The willingness to buy reused goods is hard to measure, because it’s also about visibility. But today we have no problem meeting the demand for used electronics, and since only 1% is reused, demand is not high today. But the potential is greater.
The biggest challenge in increasing the reuse of electronic equipment is that we see a lot of consumer products in the waste stream for which there is simply no demand among Danes. For example, it is difficult to sell a used iPhone 6 in Denmark. There are simply too few people who will buy an old mobile phone. But there may be people elsewhere in Europe who would appreciate such products.
Reuse must take place under proper conditions. Elretur has therefore developed a Code of Conduct, which is a set of guidelines for ethical behaviour in the transport, handling, treatment, repair and disposal of WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) and BAT (BAT is the short form for end-of-life batteries and accumulators). Among other things, Elretur’s Code of Conduct is important in relation to exports and will help ensure that what happens when discarded electronic products are sent out of Denmark to other countries is monitored, as it is important that exports are not carried out in such a way that an environmental problem is simply exported, but that products are actually reused after export.
Just because consumers do not want to buy old, reused electronic items, there may still be a demand for certain components from them. Examples include flat-screen TVs, which are difficult to sell used. This is partly because the selling price of new screens is often quite low. Nevertheless, the components are in demand for industrial plants.
The same applies to old computers, where components such as chips, RAM blocks and graphics cards can be fished out of the obsolete machines and sold.
Reused components are of interest for repairers, but it would also be obvious to sell them directly to manufacturers. Elretur does not sell components directly to consumers because manufacturers and repairers need to be able to guarantee their products – and guaranteeing safety becomes complicated if consumers start doing their own repairs.
REUSE IS NOT RECYCLING
Most people may not realise that there is a big difference between recycling and reusing returned products. Many materials have to be recycled due to their damaged condition, so the materials are broken down and then given a new form and application. But when reused, the product re-emerges in exactly the same form – and there’s a big climate win to be had here.
Elretur therefore expects the treatment facilities to give many of the Danes’ returned products a new lease of life. The way it works is that the repairer who acquires the products from the first treatment facilities takes over the warranty obligations. Consumers will get access to an orderly and controlled second-hand market, as an alternative to the current market. Many people have bought something second-hand that has not worked properly. Elretur, Stena Recycling and H.J. Hansen Recycling will change all that through this initiative, which increases the lifetime of many of the products. In short, you will be able to trust that the second-hand products you buy will work.
It is the responsibility of manufacturers to ensure that their products attain this extended life cycle. The EU has determined the overall framework for waste regulation in the Waste Directive, in which Denmark and other countries commit to achieving increased recycling by 2025. Since reuse is included in the calculation of recycling, it is therefore important that we get these quantities reported.