Recycling of useful metals

A law to promote the recycling of small electronic and electric home appliances such as mobile phones, personal computers and small game machines took effect April 1. The central government is to certify companies to recycle these items.

Municipal governments that have finished preparations are scheduled to kickoff the recycling projects in June. Municipalities that are lagging behind in their preparations should speed up their efforts so they can participate as soon as possible.

Up to this point a separate law has required makers to recycle only four large electric home appliances — air conditioners, TV sets, refrigerators and laundry machines. Consumers must pay recycling fees when they dispose of these items.

The new law, which covers about 100 items, does not require consumers to pay such fees because certified companies that recycle the appliances are expected to make profits from the gold, silver, copper and rare metals recovered from the recycled items. The Environment Ministry says that the new law covers almost all small home electronic and electric appliances except fluorescent lights and electric bulbs.

The ministry estimates that households throw out about 650,000 tons of small electronic and electric appliances each year — roughly 1 to 2 percent of their total waste. Municipalities have thus far buried most of those items in landfills.

The new law is expected to partially mitigate the problem of illegal dumping and export of used electronic and electric appliances, which cause environmental problems in Japan and abroad. (The ministry estimates that the illegal dumping of air conditioners, TVs, refrigerators and laundry machines increased 22.5 percent in fiscal 2011 from the previous year to 161,400 units. Illegal dumping of personal computers decreased 3.7 percent to 4,439 units.)

Under the new law, municipalities will choose the types of used small electronic and electric appliances it will collect for recycling as well as the ways to collect such items — setting up collection boxes in public facilities, separating the items in question from nonflammable refuse or having consumers separate these items from the rest of their garbage.

Municipalities should talk with local residents to determine which collection method is the best and how to reduce recycling costs. The ministry has the goal of recycling about 13,000 tons of discarded small electronic and electric items in fiscal 2013. It will raise the amount to about 140,000 tons in fiscal 2015.

It may be difficult for municipalities to know the cost of the new recycling system until they start it. The ministry plans to use subsidies to cover the costs of setting up collection boxes and carrying out public relations activities. It is hoped that it will faithfully implement the plan.

So far, only about one-third of the nation’s municipalities are ready to take part in the new recycling program. The ministry should carry out public relations activities aimed at spurring participation in this beneficial program.