Separating Plastics from Metals Gains Steam

19 March 2004

A new report suggests that electronics manufacturers in Europe may need to spend up to $40 billion to prepare takeback and recycling systems for compliance with the Waste Electrical and Electronics (WEEE) directive, which takes effect in 2006.

A 55:45 joint venture formed by MBA Polymers (Richmond, CA) and Guangzhou Iron & Steel Enterprises Holdings Ltd. (GISE), called GISE-MBA New Plastics Technology Co. Ltd., will build and operate a mechanical recycling plant for end-of-life (EOL) E/E goods, white goods, and automotive parts in the Nansha development area, using MBA's separation technology. The technology separates not only plastics from the (mostly mixed metals) shredder residue but also separates plastics by material.

Mike Biddle, founder of MBA, says the new plant—the first large-scale commercial one using the technology—will be able to process about 40,000 tonnes/yr by early 2005. A pilot plant in Richmond, operating for nearly a decade, could process 10,000 to 15,000 tons/yr if enough EOL goods were collected. In the U.S. they are not, but he says the next two to three years is expected to bring legislation in China requiring manufacturers to take back EOL goods and develop recycling plans for these.

Flextronics, the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, is a minority investor in MBA Polymers as is another ""major player in the plastics industry"" that Biddle did not disclose.

MBA is already in talks regarding other plants in China. Interest is also strong in Europe, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and India, says Biddle. Manufacturer takeback of EOL goods is already legislated in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea and soon will be in Europe.

According to the new report 'Electronics Recycling: What to Expect from Global Mandates' from Raymond Communications, electronics manufacturers in Europe alone may need to spend up to $40 billion to prepare takeback and recycling systems for compliance with the Waste Electrical and Electronics (WEEE) directive, which takes effect in 2006. Sony, Electrolux, Braun, and Hewlett-Packard already have formed an alliance to handle their pan-European collection scheme.

The report states that nine Japanese electronics firms spent more than $1.5 billion on environmental design and compliance in 2001-2002. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped financial support of the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative; it now receives only private funding. A California law taxing televisions to support recycling of those produces still awaits approval from the recently elected governor.

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