Economic and environmental assessment of recycling and reuse of electronic waste: Multiple case studies in Brazil and Switzerland

Elsevier, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 127, December 2017, Pages 42-55
Geraldo Cardoso de Oliveira Neto, Aurode Jesus Cardoso Correia and Adriano Michelotti Schroeder

The increasing quantity of electronic waste is a societal problem due to the imminent risk of eco-system contamination from harmful substances present in these products. Therefore, recycling and reusing these materials could mitigate environmental impacts and provide economic gains. The present research is aimed at assessing the economic and environmental advantages of adopting Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) reverse logistics for recycling and reuse by three Brazilian manufacturers of electro-electronic products,and three recyclers,two located in Brazil and one located in Switzerland. Specifically, this study maps the processes used by three recyclers. These multiple case studies incorporated both observation and semi-structured interview. The Mass Intensity Factor was used for the environmental impact assessment. We found that the adoption of electronic waste reverse logistics for recycling and reuse resulted in reduction of the environmental impact in the abiotic, biotic, water and air compartments and economic gains for the manufactures and recyclers, indicating a promising market in the Brazil. Another relevant result was the presentation of a simple eco-efficiency tool to be used in organizational practice. This tool provides a performance indicator based on indexes to implement goals for continuous recycling and reuse improvements, aimed at achieving a closed cycle. However, electronic waste recycling and reuse processes in Brazil are decentralized and, therefore, the development of a cooperation network as a whole is complex. Furthermore, precious metal recovery from printed circuit boards is a process carried out specifically by foreign enterprises because the Brazilian manufacturers and recyclers do not have enough technology due the lack of resources for investment. Thus, the Brazilian government has been holding meetings with the manufacturers and recyclers to develop a sectoral agreement in order to support financially the transfer of this technology for recycling of printed circuit boards to Brazil. In addition, this fact contributes to the National Solid Waste Policy, and it increases the financial profitability of Brazilian recyclers because with this process the recyclers could extract precious metals for sale increasing the economic gain.