Recyclable waste is a valuable material, but not cost-free
Interview by Youssef Chehade and Mohammad Abdulmoti, Ecyclex Founders
By motivating and educating people to start segregating waste at home, we emphasize value that recyclable waste has. When we speak about the value, certainly there is a market to circulate, buy, and sell materials. But more than this, there is a value for our health and nature conservation, as some of recyclable waste is hazardous if disposed improperly in the nature.
Let us look at the facts:
8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year (National Geographic,2015).
Only 17.4% of E-waste is being recycled globally (Reuters, 2020).
Plastic recycling rate has never grown above 9% in USA (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2018).
Isn’t recycled plastic used to produce new sellable products? Does not E-waste contain precious metals that have high in value? Then why the recycling percentages are still low if we can generate money out of these wastes?!
To answer these questions, we have to look deeply into the recycling process. Yes, there is definitely a value in different commodities after recycling, but to recycle waste to reach a state that is acceptable by materials processors or manufacturers, many costs are involved and in many cases the cost of recycling is higher than the value of the materials.
Mohammad Abdulmoti, Ecyclex, Co Founder
Technically speaking most types of plastics are recyclable, but they cannot be recycled unless they are uncontaminated and segregated. Adding the logistics, segregation and cleaning costs to the recycling cost of the materials can make the whole process unfeasible, especially in countries where recycling fees are not subsidized.
Another example of the cost of recycling in E-waste. Waste of electrical and electronic equipment and devices is one of the most costly processes due to the complexity of materials. A mobile phone can contain more that 4 types of plastics, 10 types of metals, glass, and some other hazardous materials. So definitely it is not an easy job to recycle it especially if we want to reach a high recovery rate and the ethical environmental impact of recycling. To give an example of that, if we decide to recycle only the metals in a mobile phone and not spend more cost on the plastic recovery, we will be compromising the recovery rate.
Similarly, if we decide not to treat the CFC gases (chlorofluorocarbons) in a recycled air conditioner, the cost will be less, but we will be compromising the environmental impact on greenhouse gases. It is very crucial to deal with an ethical certified recycler to ensure responsible processing of materials.
Our vision at Ecyclex is to become the region’s most trusted brand in ethical and responsible recycling and to provide customized and comprehensive recycling solutions in the UAE and the region for materials that are difficult to recycle. This gives us a key role in the circular economy chain. Ecyclex maximizes reuse and recycling, which creates circularity and reduces waste. Moreover, we always strive to help in waste minimization by supporting recycling initiatives whenever requested, and by welcoming individuals to drop their recyclable material at our facilities.
Youssef Chehade, Ecyclex, Co-Founder
Q: Can you tell us what happens with these materials after they have been treated by you?
For e-waste, a step of data sanitization and a step of technical check up are added at the beginning to try to give a second life for some types of electronics. Afterwards, each type of electronics has its own process line such as manual removal of some hazardous component, shredding, metals separation, plastics separation, etc. All for the goal of recovery of the maximum types of materials from it.
Q: What materials could be hazardous? What is important that consumers and companies know in order to take their responsibilities in disposing of waste properly?
E-waste is categorized globally as a hazardous waste mainly due to two reasons: toxicity and fire/explosivity hazard. For instance, many of the electronic components contain toxic deadly materials that can pollute underground water if it is landfilled. Similarly, if these components are not treated properly in a responsible recycling facility, hazardous fumes can be produced. Even plastic processing by itself can produces hazardous fumes at certain stages. It is always the responsibility of the individual or the company to ensure they are choosing the right recycling facility that is transparent in the process they do for their materials.
Q: Is there any waste in the recycling process that cannot be recycled?
Generally speaking, it is hard to reach a 100% recyclability of all materials received inside a recycling facility depending on the quality, contamination, and complexity of the materials. In addition to that, some types of plastics like thermoset plastics (heat resistant plastics) are not recyclable, complex materials that are containing different types of plastics attached to each other are not recyclables.