For Recupel, 2019 was a record year in terms of collecting e-waste. “We are reaping the rewards of the efforts we made in recent years,” says Bruno Vermoesen, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “But we remain ambitious: Recupel must become a hub in the circular economy.”
Last year, Recupel collected a record amount of e-waste. No less than 122,548 tonnes were dropped off at RecyclePoints, recycling parks, or one of our partners. That is an increase of 4.4% compared to 2018. I am satisfied that the substantial investments in the collection network and communication campaigns are having an effect.
Nevertheless, at a national level, there is still work to be done. After all, Recupel is not the only organisation in Belgium that collects e-waste. Belgium, like many other Member States, is still not meeting the collection target of the European Directive [which stipulated that by 2019, all Member States have to collect at least 65% of the average weight of what had been placed on the market in the preceding three years or 85% of what was discarded]. In this regard, we must all shift up a gear.
That’s right. Indeed, at Recupel, we have been well above the European average for years. This is because we only work with certified processors that have a WEEELABEX certificate or equivalent, which means that they must respect the minimum targets. But this is not the case for many collectors and processors. We are therefore calling on the EU to introduce the targets for everyone.
How can Belgium increase its collection figures?
There are still too many old or broken appliances left in cupboards or simply thrown in the bin. That’s why, year after year, we continue to invest in awareness-raising campaigns to persuade consumers to bring their appliances to Recupel collection points. Besides, some appliances end up in the hands of collectors and processors that are bending the rules. This issue can be tackled with thorough government controls.
We are strongly committed to reporting. All collection and processing businesses must publish their collection and recycling results, but not all are prepared to do so. To persuade them to report their results, we have set up an accessible platform in collaboration with the sector federations and regional governments. With the BeWeee-tool, collectors, processors, manufacturers, retailers, and exporters can report their results to the Flemish, Brussels and Walloon authorities. In 2018, around 20,000 tonnes of e-waste were reported via BeWeee, which would otherwise have remained under the radar. This is a success, although the numbers still have to go up considerably.
Your ambition is that Recupel will play a pioneering role in Belgium's circular economy. How will you achieve this?
We are focusing on two pillars: extending the service life of appliances and closing the material loops. We have already come a long way with the latter. By collecting end-of-life appliances and working with state-of-the-art processors, we ensure that as few raw materials as possible are lost. In the future, we want to improve our results even further by using artificial intelligence, for example.
To extend the service life of the appliances, we are working closely with our partners in the recycling sector. For example, we regularly consult with the umbrella organisations – Herwin for Flanders and Ressources for Wallonia and Brussels. We are also considering setting up a platform where consumers and repairers can come into contact with each other.
What impact does the Green Deal have on the recycling of e-waste?
For us, the Green Deal and the accompanying plan for the circular economy are significant. The plan is also exciting because it aims to stimulate the market for secondary raw materials. For example, it looks at how manufacturers can be encouraged to use recycled raw materials in their products and, in particular, the rights afforded to consumers to have their appliances repaired. That means, for example, that manufacturers must have enough spare parts when they sell a product and that software updates will become the new norm. The EU has not specified exactly how this ‘right to repair’ should work. That’s how the free market can play its part, which I think is a good thing.
What challenges do you see for the coming years?
Our 20th anniversary is in 2020, which is a good time for reflection. We are already playing a key role in terms of collection and processing of e-waste. Looking towards the future, we are reflecting on how we can bring added value to all the stages of the circular economy.
Our ambition is to become a hub in the circular economy in Belgium. I see that as an opportunity rather than a challenge. The circular economy of the future is good for both people and the planet. By closing the material loops, fewer primary raw materials need to be used, which also reduces CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the collection, reuse, and processing of end-of-life electronic equipment is good for employment. It also offers great opportunities for the social economy. By working together with sheltered workshops, we have created work for 414 long-term unemployed people, people with disabilities and those aged over 55. This is another area where we can make a difference.
"Our ambition is to become a hub in the circular economy in Belgium. I see that as an opportunity rather than a challenge."