News Column

Going green: device recycling in the UAE

July 24, 2014

ArabianBusiness.com Staff



Globally, people are becoming more aware of the environment and recycling has now become the norm, with most of us separating our plastics from our cans and paper. But what about mobile phones and laptops?

We are continuously upgrading our mobile phones and even laptops and tablets don't last a lifetime as product refresh cycles become ever shorter.

Pramod Kattel, general manager of Technocare said: "The replacement and upgrade market in the UAE is one of the highest in the world with industry estimates suggesting figures of over 2m handsets a year. Less than 1% of this volume is actually being recycled through authorised programmes such as [Technocare's] Foneswap. The majority of devices are discarded and end up in landfills. The rest are resold, handed down or reused."

Technocare said that the average phone user in the US has 1.88 phones and in the UK that figure is 2.06. So what is happening to all the disused phones? Do people throw them away or just keep them in a drawer?

According to a Mobile Mountain Study, almost 40% of participants said that they keep their old phones for themselves, while just 20% gave them to family members or friends and 9% actually disposed of them as refuse. According to MarketWatch, all of the dormant iPhones combined are worth approximately $13.4bn.

In the UAE, retailers such as Jacky's and Emax offer recycling programmes where customers can drop off their unwanted devices and will receive store credit where there is still value on the product. Usually this is based on the brand, model, age and condition. As well as accepting phones, laptops and tablets, Emax will also buy back cameras, televisions and refrigerators and will soon offer the same service for gaming consoles and washing machines.

According to Neelesh Bhatnagar, CEO of Emax, globally around 45m kilogrammes of electronic plastic waste is generated annually and only 8 to 10% of Emax customers participate in the buy-back scheme and carry in products to the store. Only 3 to 5% of customers do so for television and refrigerators, but he believes that trend is increasing.

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Most recycling schemes in the region help developing countries, as reuse is said to be the most environmentally friendly form of recycling. According to Ravi Behl, director, business relations at Recycle Emirates, reusing working computers is up to 20 times more energy efficient than recycling them. Also, reuse lowers resource depletion costs far more than recycling.

Recycle Emirates, which has approved data wiping and destruction services, send working PCs for reuse in agriculture, health and education projects across Africa. Since 2006, it has provided almost 200,000 PCs and laptops in over 25 countries.

The issue of e-waste is rising globally, Behl said: "The disposal of electronics is the fastest-growing part of the world's trash problem, with an estimated 50m computers becoming obsolete annually. Every day, individuals and organisations around the globe dispose of mountains of e-scrap, containing hazardous and toxic materials that pose significant environmental risks: CRT monitors with toxic lead oxide that can leach into the ground water; PC-related components and batteries with chromium, nickel, zinc, mercury and other heavy metals; plastic equipment housings that can release dangerous gases if incinerated.  Tossing your old PC equipment into the dumpster is not an option anymore for an educated society."

According to Technocare, the everyday smartphone contains mercury, lead, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, bromine and zinc. Other devices contain substances such as beryllium, lithium, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which, when enclosed in the device are safe, but when exposed, they provide a negative impact on the environment.

As well as recycling benefitting the environment by keeping hazardous materials at bay, Kenneth Neil, business development manager from SIMS Recycling Solutions said: "Recycling also helps to reduce the amount of materials that need to be mined from the earth."  

Youssef Chehade, manager, Ecyclex agreed:  "Recycling from waste is sometimes referred to as "Urban Mining". Ewaste recycling can make a country like UAE which lacks natural sources of gold and silver become a producer of such precious material. And definitely, a major benefit is preserving the safety of animals and plants, and the quality of soil and air.

"Electronics as they are, are not hazardous; that is why you can simply use them at home. But when broken or landfilled, hazardous material may leach or escape to the atmosphere, soil, or water bodies. These toxic substances, such as lead, mercury, and others, can kill marine life, animals and plants, and can poison humans through contaminating soil and water. If consumed, such toxic substances can even cause cancers, birth defects, and many other health problems."

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Aside from environmental and social responsibility, money is said to be the biggest incentive for people to recycle and while most electronics are 100% recyclable, Chehade believes that the main obstacle and reason for the lack of recycling is the lack of a countrywide collection schemes, he said: "Seventy five per cent of the effort is yet to be done in terms of reaching a complete countrywide management of e-waste.

"Currently, most of those who care about recycling are those companies that are governed by ISO certifications, or others by the standards imposed on them by their international headquarters. Very few companies are doing it as a mere social responsibility or environmental initiative."

Most recycling companies in the UAE will accept most products and give cash back or vouchers in return. The amount will depend on the brand, model, age and condition of the product.

Ecyclex does not accept items that are leaking such as damaged batteries, or items that contain broken glass, such as broken lamps, but others accept items in any condition. For example, Emax cannibalises some of the devices as one way of recycling. The product gets dismantled, and working parts are removed and resold as spares for repair. If there are parts that are of no use, such as a broken cover, it is then sent for destruction or smelting and recovered as raw material.

Recycle Emirates will accept "any form of IT equipment in any condition," Behl said. "All equipment collected goes through the "Audit and Process" line at our processing facility.  It starts with a complete audit and testing process to verify components, our refurbish engineers provide a cleaning of cosmetic surfaces, replacement of keyboard, capacitors, replacement of scratched or damaged LCD panels, and make note of any missing component parts such as memory, optical drives, power supplies, system boards and more that get completed by our in-house parts inventory.  Even if a detailed, advanced repair is required, our experienced technicians have the experience to get the job done quickly and effectively to get the unit through to a last series of checks to confirm the unit is ready to be redeployed."

According to a United Nations report, more people now have mobile telephones around the world than have access to a flushing toilet: "Six of the world's 7bn people have mobile phones - but only 4.5bn have a toilet," the report said.

This statistic emphasises how important it is for people to use the recycling schemes available to them.


For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel



Source: ITP.net (United Arab Emirates)


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