"Moscow is
Doomed to Recycle"

The global consumption of electronics is growing at an enormous rate, and so is the amount of e-waste. Last year, the world's population threw out 54 m t of e-waste, which is a record value and 9 m t more than just five years ago, in 2014. At the same time, e-waste is one of the most toxic and harmful kinds of waste. CEO of ECOPOLIS Corporation Maksim Lobanov told us how Moscow, Russia and the world are solving the most complex problem of e-waste recycling.
Maksim Lobanov
CEO of ECOPOLIS Corporation
Maksim, I would like to start with one of the most complex issues, the one of sustainable consumption. In other countries, people have been sorting garbage for a long time, and industrial enterprises approach the issue of waste disposal with extreme responsibility. Why does not this work for us? What is the case, and most importantly, the attitude to waste recycling in Russia? Is our mentality really a problem?

Indeed, these questions are not easy. There is no absolute answer.

I am sure that this is a matter of state policy in general. It is the state that should make people think about the environment. In all the countries I have visited, the state establishes an environmental agenda and makes people follow it in a variety of ways. And, believe me, these are not only suggestion. Not at all! Everything has economic meaning. It is like parking lots in Moscow: everyone used to park where they wanted, but then cameras were installed to record every violation, and everyone, regardless of their status, were charged with serious fines. Now, Moscow is almost perfect in terms of parking.

So we need to do the same for environment. Today, the consumption of various electronics in the world is growing at a frantic pace. Last year, the world's population threw out 54 m t of e-waste, which is a record value and 9 m t more than five years ago. And this is a very toxic kind of waste, that needs to be recycled and not just thrown into landfills.
ECOPOLIS Corporation is the only plant complex in Russia for the environmentally friendly disposal of electronic and electrical waste.
Are there any estimates of how much such waste is generated in Russia?

There is a lot of e-waste. Today, our plant is capable of processing 75 thous. t per year, but if there is more raw material, the production capacity can also be increased. In general, 1 m 400 t of e-waste is yearly generated in Russia. Thus, we can recycle only 5% of the total volume, provided that 100% of waste is supplied for recycling. In reality, such an e-waste collection rate is unattainable. It is impossible to collect all the generated e-waste, but this, of course, should be strived for.

And what about e-waste abroad?

The Europeans, for example, took two paths. The first way is to recycle and the second is to incinerate all waste. The latter way was chosen by the Scandinavian countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and others. They erected a large number of waste incineration plants, primarily because there had been no modern recycling technologies before, and Europe had built its capacities ten years ago.

Such plants were very efficient, because they were connected to the city's infrastructure to supply heat and electricity. That is why they simply cannot be shut down now: if the waste is recycled rather than incinerated, electricity and heat supply in cities will be interrupted. And this is a huge problem. For example, Sweden has to import waste on purpose, because it is no longer possible to stop the giant infrastructure. So it turns out that in Sweden about 10% of waste is processed, and the rest is incinerated.

Germany has chosen the way of recycling. They recycle garbage, and it is now the most advanced country in terms of using recyclables.
And Russia?

Russia is undoubtedly catching up with European countries, although their experience is not always applicable to us. But in order to catch up and overtake them in the shortest possible time, we need to apply the latest waste recycling technologies to the maximum, and also follow the way of recycling and using the materials obtained for further production. But this, as I said, is largely up to the state. First, it is necessary to impose significant fines for businesses, and not only for those who simply take their electronics to the landfill, but also for those who do not dispose of waste properly. Second, it is necessary to arrange sites where people could bring their old equipment themselves, as, for example, in Sweden. There, you can either bring an unnecessary refrigerator to such a site and leave it for free disposal, or throw it in the trash near you home and in this case, you will have to pay.

In Moscow, we can do something similar providing a small 200 sq. m site in each district where one could bring both waste paper and bottles, and most importantly, equipment and furniture. Recyclers would take waste for disposal themselves, and people would save on waste removal, because the fee for this service is based on the amount of waste, which is largely furniture and large household appliances. As for companies, it worth to mention Korea's experience. There are clear regulations on the service life of any equipment. For example, a computer cannot be used for more than 10 years. If a company has such an old computer, it can be brought for free to an equipment collection point, that is available in every region. And I can tell you that up to 90% of electronics are assembled in Korea. That is fantastic. Third, the recycling market in Russia needs to be made official. Now, there are a large number of small companies, which provide disposal services at lower prices, but recycle only a small part of the waste, and simply throw away the rest. And official businesses mean new jobs and taxes. And, of course, it is necessary to think about supporting recyclers that operate officially. I am one hundred percent sure that any industry can be completely changed in five years. And we have time for this. I believe that Russia is capable of doing it.

How can "official" enterprises like yours survive in this market, since it is not so easy to compete with "unofficial" counterparts?

No doubt about that. If we talk about our history, the concept of ECOPOLIS was not created at once. We were proceeding from the fact that used electronics contain a certain amount of raw materials with precious metals. Those are extracted in the course of recycling and then sold. We had an idea to create a company to do this. This is how the Aurus plant for processing electronic boards was established. And then it became obvious that, besides business, there also was a social function. Therefore, we created the Ekotekhprom plant to recycle entire electronic devices. Developing this idea further, we thought about the fact that electronics contain a huge amount of plastic. Its content may reach 40%! But all plastics are different, a computer may contain one kind, and a monitor another. And what is to do with them? On the market, we tried to find companies that could process these various plastics, but there were not any. This is how we created the Ekoplast plant, which is perhaps our most social project. It recycles plastics to produce secondary raw materials. Thus, there is a raw material chain from an old computer to recyclables that can be used to manufacture something new. And from the environmental point of view, this is right, although it does not bring a fast buck.
Please tell us about the production of recyclables. Is there a demand, and what needs to be done to increase it?

The main problem here is the heterogeneity of materials. And our first attempts to produce recyclables resulted in a product of middle quality with additives of various plastics. We needed to make it purer. We have improved the technology and now we can get high-quality raw materials, even when processing plastic mixes. And there is a demand for it. We provided samples of our high-quality pellets to potential consumers, and they were interested. For example, there is a TV set manufacturer in the Rostov region. The back plastic walls of these TV sets will now be made from our recyclables.

Working with consumers, we are facing another problem: factory specialists are quite reluctant to change their well-functioning technology to use recyclables. Indeed, this way you can save about 20%, but this is not such a huge difference. And here again, the state's participation is necessary to stimulate the recyclables use in production. For example, in Europe, the required content of recyclables in the products is systematically increased. And this approach would make it possible to achieve a lot, both in Moscow and in Russia. You just need to set standards for enterprises and slightly reduce taxes for those using recyclable materials. In this case, they will fight for them!

Are you planning to export? Will you ship your pellets overseas or is it still too early?

No, we do not have such plans yet. We do not produce so much materials, and the demand here is enough. Moreover, if we export, we will immediately face a certification problem. Unlike oil, gas or metals, there is simply no single world standard for such products. And we can sell our pellets here. No doubt about that.

Are Moscow residents showing at least a little more responsibility for the e-waste disposal and paying more attention to what they are throwing away now? Has your work helped to change anything?

Yes, it has. People are now actively bringing their old equipment for environmentally friendly disposal. Recyclers, the state, and companies have done a lot for this. For example, this month, we and our partner M-Video will set a record in collecting e-waste. M-Video and Eldorado have done a great job. Now, people can bring old equipment to the companies' stores in every district of Moscow and just hand it over without even buying anything. And all the collected equipment is sent to our factories.
Are there any statistics on how much electronics are handed over by Muscovites?

It is hard to say. Yearly, there are about 21 kg of electronic and electrical equipment per capita. Of course, this value largely depends on enterprises. Thus, according to various expert estimates, from 150,000 to300,000 t of e-waste is yearly generated in Moscow!

And, for the sake of argument, how much recyclables can be made from these 21 kg?

Of course, waste can be different, but on average, 80-82% of one kilogram of waste can be used to produce recyclables. But only if it is recycled properly. For example, for smaller, less efficient companies, this figure is somewhere around 40%. In Germany, if I'm not mistaken, it is 56%. Our advantage is that we are the only full-cycle plant complex in Russia that recycles electronic waste, and there is no such thing anywhere else, even in Europe. The products that we do not use to produce high-quality recyclables, for example, generated plastic fractions, are sent to cement plants to be used as a certified fuel additive.

What do you think of the future of recycling in Moscow?

I think that in the near future Moscow can actually reach a European level in e-waste recycling. Moscow is doomed to recycle, because the population density here is extremely high. This task is colossal, but if it is solved, then our capital will become a leader not only in Russia, but I am sure, among European megalopolises as well.
E-mail: pressprom@mos.ru
Audience: 16+