97% of collected e-waste recycled for useful applications
The recovery of materials and energy from waste can lead to considerable environmental and economic benefits. In addition, the proper removal and destruction of refrigerants in cooling and freezing appliances can make a large contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the Netherlands, one organisation is making a difference.
E-waste collection in the Netherlands
Non-profit organisation Wecycle organises the collection and recycling of electronic waste (e-waste) in the Netherlands, on behalf of 1,750 producers and importers. Wecycle and PRé have been working together to quantify the environmental benefits of these efforts since 2009. Every year, PRé performs a screening LCA to assess the avoided environmental impacts from the collection and recycling of electrical appliances and energy-saving light bulbs, plus the proper removal and destruction of CFCs and HCFCs from refrigerators and freezers.
What are CFCs and HCFCs?
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are man-made compounds containing chlorine, fluorine and carbon. They were used as cooling agent and applied in insulation foam in cooling and freezing appliances. CFCs are known for their high ozone layer depletion capabilities and their high contribution to global warming. CFCs were replaced by hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are less persistent but still have a strong environmental impact. The Montreal protocol of 1987 led to a phasing out of CFCs in 1995 and HCFCs in 2020.1 Wecycle organises the appropriate removal and destruction of both groups of CFCs in cooling and freezing appliances.
1 UNEP Ozone Secretariat. The Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. Available via: http://ozone.unep.org/montreal-protocol-substances-deplete-ozone-layer/32506 (accessed January 2017)
The yearly climate-change performance of Wecycle’s activities is determined with a life cycle approach. The avoided CO2 emissions due to the recycling of e-waste were estimated on the basis of the avoided use of new materials. For example, the avoided environmental impacts of copper recycling are estimated on the basis of the environmental impacts of copper production. In order to take into account the lost resources when recycling a material, a material-specific correction for losses was applied. Recycled materials taken into account include aluminium, copper, iron, zinc, glass (used for production of glass and concrete) and plastics (ABS, PE and PS). In addition, the climate-change performance of appropriate removal and destruction of CFCs and HCFCs in cooling and freezing appliances was quantified with the substance-specific Global Warming Potential (GWP, expressed in kg CO2-equivalents per kg refrigerant) over a period of 100 years.
The life cycle modelling was done in SimaPro. Information about the material type per e-waste category was collected with the WF-RepTool database application. This is a tool that can be used to calculate recycling and recovery rates for e-waste in a transparent, traceable manner, in accordance with what is required in the international WEEELABEX standard. Six e-waste categories were included: large household appliances, small household appliances, cooling and freezing appliances, televisions, flat-panel displays, and energy-saving light bulbs. Life cycle inventory data were collected from the ecoinvent database. This includes e.g. data about supplies of raw materials and emissions related to the production of the different materials. For the calculation of the carbon footprint, we used the IPCC 2013 method.
Results for 2017
The calculations for 2017 are finished, and we are now happy to share the results with you:
- In 2017, 107,000,000 kg of electronic waste was collected. This is the result of a fruitful collaboration between Wecycle and many parties like municipalities, shops, and installation companies.
- Following the principles of circular economy, the waste was turned into a resource. 97% of discarded e-waste was recycled to useful materials or used for energy recovery.
- The recycling of e-waste, as well as the removal and destruction of CFCs and HCFCs from refrigerators and freezers, helped cut emissions no less than 345,000,000 kg of CO2 equivalents! This can be compared to the yearly emissions of 119,000 gasoline cars in the Netherlands.
These results clearly show the environmental benefits to our climate of successful collection and recycling of e-waste and the appropriate removal and destruction of HCFCs contained in cooling and freezing appliances.
Illustration based on: wecycle.nl
Monitoring over time
Until 2012, the collected amount of e-waste increased yearly, but the last few years the amount has stabilised around 110,000 tonnes. As a result, the avoided CO2 emissions related to the recycling of e-waste have also held steady. Throughout the years, HCFCs explained the major part of the total avoided CO2 emissions, but the fraction has diminished from 84% in 2009 to 56% in 2017. This can be explained by the phasing out of cooling and freezing appliances with HCFCs. Still, such a large, fruitful collaboration shows that together, we can all make a difference when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions!
The environmental benefits of e-waste recycling and the proper removal and destruction of refrigerants.
Reach out to us
If you are curious to find out how we can help you monitor the environmental benefits of your activities, please get in touch!
I am eager to increase the environmental awareness of our society, and I believe that everyone can contribute to a more sustainable world, every day. At PRé we provide companies with both the knowledge and the tools to improve their products and services. I am excited to work for an organisation that is involved in developing sustainable initiatives.