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Gold Mine Above the Ground

Updated on May 24, 2018
ZIa Ahmed khan profile image

A high caliber industry professional with an experience amounting over 20 years, majorly across various facets of Investment

E Waste Market Potential

The Opportunity

A wide range of hazardous chemicals is used in components of electrical and electronic devices, which has created significant problems in handling, recycling, recovery and disposal.

This has come to be known as E-Waste.

E-waste presents significant challenges, while at the same time represents lucrative opportunities, for those who can offer economically viable and safe solutions.

What is E-waste?

“Electronic waste, "e-waste" or "Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment" ("WEEE") is a waste type consisting of any broken or unwanted electrical or electronic appliance.


The economic value proposition is very compelling.

It has been estimated that 1 tonne of scrap from discarded computers contains more gold than can be produced from 17 tonnes of gold ore. A cell phone may contain 10 times higher gold content than gold ore.

World Trends in E-waste generation

As emerging nations and developing countries experience significant economic growth and increased purchasing power; rising incomes and western-style consumption patterns will lead to increased overall waste generation, particularly e-waste generation, in urban centers. Such patterns have already been witnessed in Asia’s cities.

It is estimated that per capita, Hong Kong produces 4-5 kg per day of waste, more than New York residents, while in Indian cities, per capita is 1 kg per day and in rural areas it is approximately per capita 0.5 kg per day.

However, the problem is on the rise. The projected growth for the e-waste generation for India is about 34% year on year.

The Middle East in general, is not far behind and consumption patterns in GCC states, in particular, closely mirror those of North America and Europe.

Consider the following demographics, as given by a World Bank report.

Growth Drivers for Recycling & Recovery of E-waste

Social and Environmental Responsibility:

  • Greater public and corporate awareness of environmental protection and corporate social responsibility is fuelling a global drive for “green” electronics.
  • Producers Liability, take-back program, zero landfill
  • International Directives and Government legislation and policy

New and Expanding Markets / Market Forces:

  • Rapid growth of emerging consumer electronics markets throughout Asia.
  • Changes in technology increases obsolescence.
  • Shorter product lifecycle for electronic consumer goods
  • Strong demand for raw materials (primary and secondary) from Chine and India

Current Lack of Capacity:

  • Lack of readily available and viable recycling technologies to deal with the complexity of Electronic Products.
  • Development of new technologies, economical to recover metals

Is there a global opportunity in the E-waste market?

Global E-Waste Market To Cross $11 Billion By 2009

According to a soon-to-be-released report Electronic Waste Recovery Business, the worldwide market for electronic waste will rise at an AAGR (average annual growth rate) of 8.8% from $7.2 billion in 2004 to $11 billion in 2009.

Overall, the market for post-consumer recycled materials from electronics will be strong over the next five years. The largest driver of growth will be the regulatory-driven onus on OEMs to manage hazardous waste materials from cradle-to-grave. This lifecycle begins with designing for the environment and in certain regions of the world now requires OEMS to finance all recovery costs of electronics products and their constituent materials. The need to rapidly curb toxins in the waste stream is apparent as electronic waste grows at three times the rate of other waste in the municipal solid waste stream.

E-waste has been mounting rapidly with the rise of the information society. It is the fastest growing segment of the municipal solid waste stream. E-waste equals 1% of solid waste on average in developed countries and is expected to grow to 2% by 2010. In developing countries, E-waste as a percentage of solid waste can range from 0.01% to 1%. However, led by China, developing countries will be the fastest growing segment of the E-waste market with the potential to triple output over the next five years. Electric and electronic equipment equals 6% of the U.S. gross domestic product, up from 5%, 10 years ago. Yet that growth is easily eclipsed by that of China's where the gross domestic product is growing in excess of 8% a year - versus 3% for the United States.

At the same time, the rate of obsolescence of electronic equipment is rising. Globally, computer sales continue to grow at 10% plus rates annually. Sales of DVD players are doubling year over year. Yet the lifecycle of these products are shortening, shrinking to 10 years for a television set to 2 or 3 years for a computer. Unfortunately, manufacturers and governments have not kept pace with electronic waste policy and practice. As a result, a high percentage of electronics are ending up in the waste stream releasing dangerous toxins into the environment.

What is the commercial value in E-Waste?

Preliminary studies have indicated that 80%+ precious metal recovery can be achieved from PC materials, despite the small quantity found in computers.

Recovering Rare and Precious Metals:

E-waste has a high density of precious, rare earth and base metals including indium, lithium, bismuth, ruthenium, platinum, nickel and gold. Such materials are integral in the production of many high tech electronic devices including mobile phones, personal computers etc. Globally, the price of such materials has been increasing making the business of recovering them economically feasible and financially lucrative. For example, the price of indium (used in making flat screens and more than a billion products per year) has increased six-fold in the last five years, making it more expensive than silver.

Where do the responsibilities lie for E-Waste?

“The European Union, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have already demanded that sellers and manufacturers of electronics be responsible for recycling 75% of them. Many Asian countries have legislated, or will do so, for electronic waste recycling. The United States Congress is considering a number of electronic waste bills including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA).”

In line with these directives and manufacturers (especially, multinational electronic companies) programs adopting greater Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the industry has been forced to respond. For example, Hewlett-Packard has been running its own recycling program for 20 years. It has take-back programs in more than 40 countries and going forward, it aims to double its annual recovery rate and reach the 2 billion pound electronics and printer cartridge recycling mark by year-end 2010.

The industry must now adopt a "cradle to grave" approach in future product offerings and process design, especially as the tenants of the Basel Convention combined with the targets set by the EU WEEE Directive gain momentum. These multi-nationals will look increasingly to local and regional service providers to meet their obligations.

The following list of multi-nationals are considered leaders in the battle against e-waste and are ranked relative to one another.

1 Nokia

2 Sony Ericsson

3 Dell

3 Lenovo


5 Sony

5 Fujitsu-Siemens

8 Samsung

8 Motorola

10 Toshiba

11 Acer

12 Apple

12 HP

14 Panasonic

International E-Waste Standards and Directives

European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive

Basel Convention on the Control of Tran boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal

Basic Parameters & Benchmarks

Global Waste Generation Estimates

  • Municipal Waste Generation per capita of representative EU countries: 304-777 kg/yr
  • For highly developed, representative cities, per capita household waste generation 0.8 kg/day is constant
  • OECD average municipal waste per capita 570 kg/yr
  • World wide waste increasing at 3% per year

Global E-waste Generation & Collection Estimates

  • E-waste generation for representative European countries: 16-17 kg/yr
  • In the USA, e-waste is estimated at 1-2% of the municipal waste stream
  • EU collection target estimates indicate that the 4 kg/yr (by end of 2006) is only 25% of total e-waste stream. Total e-waste stream is 8% of municipal waste stream
  • E-waste growth rate 8.8% per year as a global average
  • E-waste growth rate in EU is estimated at 3-5% per year

E Waste Graphics


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