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Symposium 2014

Solution for Adventures in Waste and Recycling – Creating Value

The Challenge

Trying to put a value on the global waste market is difficult, but looking at one country can help to give a sense of scale: in India alone, waste is a two billion US dollars industry. The percentage ...

Trying to put a value on the global waste market is difficult, but looking at one country can help to give a sense of scale: in India alone, waste is a two billion US dollars industry. The percentage of waste recycled varies wildly from country to country and from region to region. The ability to recycle waste depends at the very least on political will, municipal financial ability, societal awareness, and the established infrastructure to support those efforts.

Reassessing the role of resource recovery ratio in recycling system management

Many innovative information and communication technology (ICT) products require some specific features, such as compactness, high strength, and energy efficiency. These requirements have forced manufactures to use more precious metals and endurable high-value plastics, and these requirements have in turn triggered two important paradigm shifts for the global material recovery and regeneration market: first, the residual value in postconsumer products has dramatically increased, which has enabled close-loop recycling. This has also made the cascade usage of materials become more and more practical. Cascade usage means that a given material can be utilized in many different stages and for different purposes based on the downgrading of its purity. For example, the plastics in ICT products can be recycled into furniture and further recycled into garbage baskets or industrial pallets. Secondly, well-designed regeneration plants will need to collect recycled materials from several countries in order to have enough quantity to be economically feasible and to maintain a satisfactory pollution abatement system.

I suggest that the planning of resource management systems be based on global resource utilization efficiency. We have to promote cross-boundary recovery and regeneration systems in order to further economic integration and environmental effectiveness—issues that should also feature more prominently in the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

The establishment of international cooperation mechanisms and market channels for the cascade usage of resources and recovered materials would enable all recovered objects to be treated as “raw materials” and to be utilized with longer life cycles and times of usage. Towards this end, we should install innovative multinational regeneration plants with state-of-the-art economic and environmental features in order to optimize the efficiency of the flow of regenerated materials, but also to prevent the illegal flow of e-wastes between countries. In addition, the designated recovery ratio for every country should fit into the global cooperative resource utilization system, and the actual recovery ratio needs to be properly supervised, e.g., by the Basel Convention. As the recovered materials in developed countries can be automatically directed to an economically feasible set of uses, this proposal may also help to prevent ecodumping in other countries. In addition, the waste management regulations in most developing countries can be embedded into a more sustainable material policy while simultaneously mitigating resource deficiencies. In this way, the system of global material flows can be rendered more sustainable by maximizing the life-cycle utilization of all materials while reducing the possibility of shortage in some specific materials.

Jyh-Shing Yang, Senior Director, Center of Knowledge-based Economy and Competitiveness (KEC), Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), Taiwan

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