[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 14-Feb-2013
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Contact: Dr. Mathias Schluep
mathias.schluep@empa.ch
41-587-657-857
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)

Sustainable management of secondary raw materials

'Sustainable Recycling Industries' a new approach for developing countries

IMAGE: Plastics recycling in Delhi (India): Deconstruction, sorting and preparation of polymeric components involves a lot of manual work done mostly by women and children.

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Non-renewable raw materials such as copper and gold originate in many cases in developing countries. The availability of many metals, for example rare earth elements, is becoming noticeably more critical. Therefore, efficient management of these raw materials is more important than ever. The recycling of discarded consumer goods can make a big contribution; much of this recycling involves electronic devices and household equipment.

e-waste as key economic factor

In developing countries, the recovery of raw materials is mainly carried out by thousands of uncontrolled workers in what is referred to as the "informal" sector. This involves numerous risks, such as environmental pollution, health hazards and the cross-contamination of hazardous substances. In general there is a lack of quality and sustainability standards. A study recently carried out in New Delhi showed that the recycling of plastics is an important economic activity, which in this city alone employs between 20,000 and 25,000 people in more than 7,000 small businesses. The analysis also showed that the lead content in recycled plastics, which can for example be used to produce children's toys and crockery, is sometimes significantly above the prescribed European limit. Consequently, as part of the new collaboration between SECO and Empa, an international process is being launched to develop new quality and sustainability standards for secondary raw materials.

The success story continues

SECO and Empa have been cooperating successfully since 2003 in the area of e-waste. As part of the "Swiss e-Waste Program", they have supported India, China, South Africa as well as Columbia and Peru in their efforts to improve their e-waste management systems. Meanwhile, appropriate regulations have been enacted in virtually every partner country. In Peru and Columbia, it has also been possible to agree on guidelines, based on the Swiss model, relating to advanced disposal fees.

These results have led to the development of a comprehensive approach in the form the "Sustainable Recycling Industries" follow-up program. The target is to achieve the sustainable recovery of raw materials, so-called secondary raw materials, and to make them available for the international market. The new program focused on three main areas:

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