For an optimized circular e-waste treatment of the future (e-conseg)

Treating e-waste in a circular manner, adds to the conservation of natural resources and reduces environmental impacts. The e-conseg project aims to develop an assessment methodology to promote and support an impact- and future-oriented, feasible circular economy for e-waste.

In Switzerland, approximately 125,000 tons of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) are collected and recycled annually. Hazardous substances and finally dispersed valuable material, including rare technology metals (STMs) make the recycling of e-waste a challenge. However, in the transition to a circular economy, the recovery of these secondary materials from current and future electrical and electronic waste becomes crucial.

In the e-conseg project we aim to address following main research questions: "With what methodology can the treatment of e-waste be measured and assessed with regards to the following objectives:

•    Recovery of resources
•    Removal of hazardous substances
•    Maximum environmental benefit

and in order to derive suitable regulatory control measures?"

To answer this question, methods are needed that allow the assessment of waste streams in regard to these objectives throughout the end of life value chain. Existing assessment methods, such as recycling and recovery rates, measure and promote the recovery of materials that represent the largest mass fraction. However, the recovery of a certain mass of two different materials can have significantly different environmental benefits. For example, one gram of mercury released into the environment is assigned 210,000 environmental impact points (EIP), while the primary production of one gram of iron is charged with "only" 0.0084 EIP. In Switzerland, approximately 25 kilograms of mercury were released in 2018. The avoided environmental damage is equivalent to the extraction of 625,000 tons of iron or, in other words, the iron requirement of about 60 Eiffel Towers. Such differences should be taken into account in a new assessment methodology.

The project name e-conseg is derived from the basic principle of recycling: the concentration and segregation of target materials. The project will generate new knowledge but builds upon various previous studies. It is intended to serve as a central basis for the assessment and further development of the state-of-the-art in e-waste disposal in Switzerland, and the results are intended to be incorporated into the implementation aid regarding state-of-the-art technology.

Heinz Böni
Technology & Society Laboratory
Lerchenfeldstrasse 5
9014 St. Gallen
Tel. +41 58 765 78 58

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