Patricia Schröder, CEO of Circular Energy, explains a lesser known part of recycling refrigeration equipment. “With regards to the refrigerant compressors on appliances, the oil is drained from the compressor, safely collected, and sent to used-oil recyclers. If there is still refrigerant gas left in the appliance, this is recovered and sent to a gas supplier that scrubs the gas to be cleaned for re-use."

The growth in the generation of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) can predominantly be attributed to higher levels of disposable income, urbanisation and industrialisation in many developing countries, like South Africa. Other contributing factors include pricing, people having multiple devices, growth of cloud services or data centres, and short replacement cycles.

Estimating the quantity of WEEE generated on an annual basis can be a challenge due to differences in the lifespan of electrical and electronic equipment, ranging from two years for mobile equipment, such as cell phones, to 10-15 years for durable equipment, such as fridges.

Most baseline studies suggest that South Africa generates around 300,000 tonnes of WEEE on an annual basis – with a recycling rate of 10%. Like most countries, the majority of WEEE generated in South Africa is unaccounted for. What is known, however, is that very little of the WEEE generated is being exported or landfilled, so the assumption is that the majority of the WEEE is being stored or stockpiled at business and residential premises.

The WEEE recovery and recycling value chain comprises three main categories, viz. collectors, refurbishers and pre-processors.

Collectors cover business-to-business, drop off points, waste pickers and municipal waste collection service, while refurbishers recover either the entire unit or the functional part of the unit. The non-functional parts are then transferred to the pre-processors or disposed of in landfills. Pre-processors are companies who dismantle, sort, separate and bale recyclable fractions of WEEE.

Circular Energy is one such pre-processor, a non-profit sustainable waste management company which has recently partnered with appliance retailer Hirsch’s Homestores.

Raw materials and technology

As a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO), Circular Energy is approved and registered with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to operate a nationwide take-back system for the collection, recycling and environmentally sound processing of a variety of products, including electrical and electronic equipment.

“Once the appliance is collected from Hirsch’s, it is transported to the recycling hub where it is treated with state-of-the-art recycling technology. Here, the various components are separated and recovered as raw materials from the appliance,” explains Patricia Schröder, CEO of Circular Energy.

These appliances are recycled using environmentally sound practices, where all materials recovered are tracked and traced. This results in every component or material from various appliances being recovered and brought back to a raw material form where it can contribute to secondary resources.

“In the case of refrigeration equipment and the outer casing – which often ends up in a landfill and is illegal to dispose of in this manner – the Polyurethane Insulation material (PUI) that acts as an insulator for temperature regulation on the interior of the refrigerator is safely separated,” Patricia says.

PUI is an excellent oil adsorbent and is applied in an oil adsorbent process used in alternative energy generation for cement kiln firing (a cornerstone in cement production). The metal recovered from the casing after the PUI that is safely removed is also recycled in local smelters where new steel is made.

“With regards to the refrigerant compressors on appliances, the oil is drained from the compressor, safely collected, and sent to used-oil recyclers. If there is still refrigerant gas left in the appliance, this is recovered and sent to a gas supplier that scrubs the gas to be cleaned for re-use,” Patricia adds.

“When our clients come through to buy new products from us, they can rest assured that their old products will be recycled ethically, in an environmentally sound manner, thus avoiding the problem of landfills overflowing with harmful waste,” says CEO of Hirsch’s, Richard Hirsch.

The company has designated areas alongside the dispatch departments for items to be collected for recycling and also provides a service where, upon delivery of new appliances, they will take old appliances and dispose of them in the relevant drop-off locations.

 

 

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