Robotics, the Internet of things, 3-D printing – all buzzwords which quite plainly demonstrate on a daily basis the breathtaking speed with which the wheel of time turns and how new technologies are shaping our everyday lives. We assess current trends, identify their consequences for recycling and share these issues with you.
Photovoltaics – the new SENS business area
Since the beginning of 2015, photovoltaic modules have been taken back at all SENS collection points. The declared objective of SENS is, after all, to ensure that the revised ORDEE places photovoltaic modules and electrical and electronic household appliances on an equal footing. A return obligation for consumers and a corresponding take-back obligation for manufacturers and retailers would likely also prove successful in the area of photovoltaic modules.
First-generation photovoltaic systems are now being continually dismantled and replaced by modern, efficient systems. This trend can be very clearly observed in the take-back quotas: while as recently as 2015 only around 70 tonnes of photovoltaic modules were recycled with SENS, this figure had already jumped to approximately 120 tonnes in 2016.
Today, two different photovoltaic modules find their way into the take-back system: silicon cells and CIGS thin-film cells. The latter contain the pollutants copper and selenium, which need to be removed. These modules with hazardous substances are, however, extremely rare in Switzerland, as they are not very well suited to the local climate or topography. Swiss users have in the past primarily opted for the more expensive, and at the same time more robust, silicon cells. These comprise 80% glass and also contain the recyclable materials aluminium and plastic.
Although free of hazardous substances, silicon modules also represent a significant challenge for recycling, as their composite films are comparatively difficult to separate. Glass also only has a low recycling value, which means its recovery is not very attractive from a financial perspective. There is also the fact that glass puts an undue strain on recycling shredders. But despite all this, these modules are welcome in the SENS take-back system. This is not least due to the fact that we believe Switzerland could greatly reduce its level of dependence on energy imports from abroad by adopting decentralised power generation using photovoltaics.
Lithium-Ion batteries (LIB)
LIB fire hazard in electrical and electronic appliances
During the second half of 2016, in particular, detailed reports on the fire hazard posed by LIB were published in the media.
“In principle, these batteries perform well in their function as power packs,” says Roman Eppenberger, a member of the Executive Board and responsible at SENS for Technology & Quality since 2016, in relativising their danger. “Nevertheless,” he emphasises, “if they are damaged, they cause major problems.” In order to avoid such problems, the provisions for the handling of consolidated cargo and LIB-containing waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) were amended back in 2015 and defined in the ADR¹ regulations in the same year – in line with Switzerland’s European neighbours. From the beginning of 2016, these amendments were implemented in the areas of storage and transportation on a step-by-step basis. Here, switching from the common practice of collecting and transporting LIB-containing waste electrical and electronic equipment as bulk goods in containers represented the greatest challenge for all involved.
In 2016, the “LIB in WEEE” work group, which comprises representatives from the take-back and recycling systems SENS, Swico and Inobat, accepted proposed changes to the ADR regulations and incorporated these in the relevant provisions. The preliminary work for the smooth collection and transportation of LIB-containing waste electrical and electronic equipment in compliance with the regulations from 2017 has been completed.
¹ ADR: accord européen relatif au transport international des marchandises dangereuses par route; European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Roads.
Good nanotechnology – bad nanotechnology?
Around the turn of the millennium, real wonders were expected from nanotechnology, which was still a new development at this time.
Plastics, for example, which could combine the strength of steel with the lightness of conventional plastics thanks to the help of nano-additives. Such wonders have as yet failed to materialise. In the medical profession, on the other hand, great potential is still attributed to nanotechnology.
However, it is in the treatment of surfaces that nanotechnology has first established itself: car paints, for example, are made more scratch-resistant with nano-films and repel dirt and water.
In addition to their many positive characteristics, materials used at a nanoscale also entail risks. Evidence has been presented of nanoparticles in the bloodstreams of animals and humans and we now know that they are not only capable of penetrating the gastrointestinal tract, but also even breaking through the blood-brain barrier. It is little wonder that an ever-increasing focus is being placed on the question of how users and the environment can be protected against the possible damaging impact of nanotechnology.
Although the number of products treated with nanotechnology is increasing around the world, legislation and research in this area are lagging behind. There is neither a labelling obligation for such products nor has it been adequately investigated how they should be handled at the end of their life cycle. Metals are not combustible – not even at a nanoscale. What will happen to them during recycling or at waste incineration plants?
Only one thing is for sure at present: when it comes to nanoparticles, there are currently far more questions than answers in connection with their disposal and recycling. We therefore view it as our duty to keep a close eye on developments in this area.
People and electrical and electronic appliances
The controlled person – surrounded by electrical and electronic appliances
Human health has been a growth market for some time – and is becoming ever more attractive, especially for appliance manufacturers.
Small, portable measuring devices record the sporting activities of their wearers and in doing so also analyse and document values such as heart rate, sleep duration and sleep depth. According to the annual Watson forecast of the IT Group IBM, these appliances are set to become even smarter by 2020. In the form of implantable chips, they will screen their carriers on a permanent basis and upload the measured data to the cloud around the clock. Should a value deviate from the norm, it will be possible to automatically alarm and deploy a doctor. Such internal health detectives are still a dream of the future – but they are by no means utopian. Portable measuring devices are already extremely popular today and are also affordable for the masses. We are monitoring this trend closely. After all, these devices also ultimately fall under the category of household appliances – and we are committed to ensuring that they are subject to an ARF.