Recycling of electronic devices

Japan already has a system to recycle TV sets, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines and wrapping materials. On top of this, the government plans to introduce a system to recycle small electronic apparatuses such as personal computers, mobile phones, IC recorders, minidisk players and games consoles. If introduced, the new system will contribute to securing such metals as iron, copper and precious and rare metals. It is hoped that the new system will help reduce reliance on imports from China for rare metals, which are indispensable in the production of such products as mobile phones and hybrid cars.

The Environment Ministry plans to submit a related bill to the Diet this year to start the new system in April 2014. Under the planned system, a government body to promote recycling of resources from electronic apparatuses will designate companies to receive collected items from municipalities in many prefectures. They will extract metals from the items by entrusting the extraction work to specialist subcontractors. They can make profits by selling the metals. But under contracts with municipalities, they have to continue to accept collected items from the municipalities even if market prices of metals go down.

Municipalities on their part have to devise ways to collect electronic apparatuses, including placing collection boxes in municipal government offices, schools, stations, etc. They may introduce a new classification system in garbage collection. They also may have to ask electronic appliance retailers to collect electronic apparatuses that have become unnecessary from customers.

According to the ministry’s estimate using an assumption that the prices of iron, copper, aluminum and precious metals do not change from the current levels, designated companies will be able to make profits in 45 items without collecting recycling fees from consumers if they succeed in recycling 30 percent of metals released from households.

But for the new system to be successful, it will be important to have as many municipalities as possible participate in it. The government must consider providing subsidies or grants to municipalities to help them set up a system to collect electronic apparatuses. It also must create a system that will prevent the collected items from causing environmental pollution due to improper disposal.