Auto recycling industry reaches $25
billion a year
Electronic Recyclers in Fresno, California is
turning tons of electronic waste into marketable commodities. “There
is a tremendous value in the commodities that come out of these
products,” said John Shegerian, Electronic Recyclers chief
Electronic Recyclers, which opened in 2002, is
basically a demanufacturer of electronics, Shegerian said. “We
take it. We dismantle it. It leaves as one of three commodities;
plastic, glass or metals,” Shegerian said. “We bale
the plastics. We bale the metal and we seal the crushed glass. We
sell all three products around the world.”
Electronic Recyclers received about 5 million
pounds of e-waste in August, Shegerian said. The volume of e-waste
is growing about 5 to 15 percent a month.
Plans are now in the works to open recycling facilities
in four different states due to growth. “We’re going
to be taking this national in the fourth quarter of this year,”
Shegerian said. “Next year we plan to open at least a dozen
said that legislation in California to establish a funding system
for the collection and recycling of certain types of electronics
has helped the recycling business. “Not only do we keep the
stuff out of landfills, but this brand new industry has created
thousands of jobs here in California. This is an industry in its
infancy,” Shegerian said.
Hari Ramamoorthy, a research analyst at the consulting
firm Frost & Sullivan in Palo Alto, California, expects the
demand for large scale recycling companies to firm up in the United
States. “The recycling industry currently is fragmented with
the presence of lots of small recycling firms,” Ramamoorthy
said. “With many states likely to impose legislation for electronics
recycling there is need for more recycling infrastructure.”
There are currently no federal regulations regarding
e-waste. In addition to regulation in California, Massachusetts
has banned incineration and disposal of cathode ray tubes (CRTs).
Maine has regulations that require manufactures
of TVs and computer monitors to collect and recycle products that
are sold within the state.
Maryland also charges a fee from companies that
manufacture more than 1,000 computers per year.
“Even though there is no federal directive
with regard to e-waste, awareness about e-waste is widespread in
the United States and Canada,” Ramamoorthy said. “There
are a huge number of small and big electronic waste recyclers. Currently,
most of the recyclers deal with CRTs and computer housings, cell
phones, and similar electronic materials.”
Ramamoorthy said it is estimated that United States
computer recycling alone could become a $1.5 billion industry annually.
Only about 10 percent of computers are currently recycled. In total,
about 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste is produced every year on
a global basis. Ramamoorthy noted that the average life span of
a computer dropped to 2 years in 2005. Mobile phones also have a
“Electronics recycling should not be seen
as a burden. It not only protects the environment, but also makes
business sense. It will enable use of valuable metals and high value
plastics that will otherwise end up in the landfill,” Ramamoorthy
ReCellular Inc. based in Dexter, Michigan is just
one of many companies profiting from e-waste. ReCellular has a network
of mobile phone collection programs across the country designed
to extract obsolete phones from the marketplace.
Mike Newman, vice president of ReCellular, said
that the company currently collects approximately 300,000 used mobile
phones each month. “Phones that still have economic value
are refurbished and sold back into the marketplace,” Newman
said. “Obsolete models are properly recycled to reclaim the
metals in the phones.”
Newman said business at ReCellular is growing
rapidly. “We are on track to increase the quantity of phones
we collect by 67 percent this year alone,” Newman said.
There is plenty of room for further growth, Newman
said. “Though we are already the largest cell phone collector
and recycler in the country, there are a tremendous number of phones
that are currently uncollected, allowing for significant growth.”
Newman said state-level regulations concerning
mobile phones have boosted business at ReCellular. “Generally,
new laws and regulations have helped to increase awareness at the
consumer level about the opportunities available for phone recycling.
This has helped to spur additional participation in existing programs,”
More needs to be done, however, to recycle mobile
phones, said Kimberlee Dinn, director of operations and development
at EARTHWORKS, a non-profit with a focus on the environmental impacts
of mining and mineral development based in Washington D.C.
“The actual rates of cell phone recycling
are not going up as quickly as I would like to see. I think a big
factor of that are retailers and manufacturers just haven’t
made this a top priority,” Dinn said. She said none of the
industry’s voluntary programs are recycling more than one
to two percent of all the mobile phones sold a year.
“What we’re saying is if you don’t want to be
forced to operate under different standards in every state, then
you’re going to have to come up with a system across the board
that really addresses the issues that doesn’t just put a Band-Aid
on it,” Dinn said.
EARTHWORKS estimates that from the 130 million mobile phones discarded
each year the internal metal components translate into 65,000 tons
of waste containing lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium, mercury and
other toxic heavy metals.
If all discarded cell phones were recycled each
year, EARTHWORKS estimates $150 million worth of metals would be
recovered, including 182,000 ounces of gold worth $100.5 million,
1.9 million ounces of silver worth $18.6 million, 65,000 ounces
of palladium worth $18.5 million, and 5 million pounds of copper
worth $10.9 million.