Assessing the Climate Co-benefits from Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Recycling in Japan

In Journal of Cleaner Production
Volume (Issue): 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.03.040
Peer-reviewed Article

The electronics industry leads the world’s largest and fastest growing manufacturing sector. Consequently the management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) or end-of-life Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) has become a prominent problem in the modern world. WEEE contains many toxic and potentially hazardous substances which can cause environmental degradation and severe threats to human health. In some developed countries, like Japan, strategies have been adopted (e.g. the home appliance recycling law), and comprehensive policy mechanisms have been implemented which aim to recuperate materials from WEEE, conserve resources, and control environmental pollution.

At present, global warming and climate-change issues have been identified as key environmental considerations in policy agendas in both developed and developing countries. In this regard assessment of the potential of WEEE recycling in terms of a country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target would offer a new path towards climate-change mitigation. Thus, this study aims to provide an in-depth investigation of the effectiveness of WEEE recycling on GHG mitigation. Life cycle GHG emissions were estimated from the overall recycling process of major home appliances in Fukuoka Prefecture under Japan’s home appliances recycling law. The highest GHG emissions resulted from the smelting phase followed by dismantling and logistical movements. In order to understand the effectiveness of WEEE recycling, the results were compared with the equivalent amount of material produced through the virgin production process in Japanese context. The calculation indicates that by implementing an appropriate WEEE recycling and resource recovery program, a significant amount of GHG emissions could be avoided that would have otherwise occurred through the virgin production of materials. Except for televisions, it is possible to prevent more than 50% of GHG emissions with respect to all other types of WEEE that would otherwise occur through the use of virgin materials. For instance, recycling of unit weight of washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners and televisions could contribute to 17.70, 27.34, 45.62 and 3.61 kg CO2-eq of GHG emissions reduction respectively. This study has revealed the potential climate co-benefits that can be achieved through recovering a significant amount of materials. The findings will be extremely useful for strengthening and implementing appropriate legislation and policies in countries across the Asia-Pacific as well as for enhancing the systematic approaches of WEEE management and sound material recycling.