Dismantling the e-waste puzzle: Green Technology Recycling

Data security is a critically important element of e-waste recycling.

Green Technology Recycling is a specialised technology recycler. Alex Samsudin, Director of the ACT branch, discusses the business and Australia’s ever-growing e-waste challenges.

For many Australians, e-waste remains something of an enigma. With multiple states introducing landfill bans for electronic waste in recent years, disposing of unwanted devices seems to get more difficult with each new tech purchase.

Alex Samsudin started Green Technology Recycling (GTR) ACT in December 2020 to provide a responsible e-waste recycling solution for councils and small businesses.

As a complementary operation to the New South Wales-based branch of the same name, GTR ACT focuses on dismantling electronic waste items and distributing the various parts for processing and recycling.

“I’ve worked with electronic waste for about 10 years – close to seven of those with my partner at the New South Wales site,” Alex says. “I don’t see myself an expert though. E-waste is always changing, so you’re still learning every single day.”

Alex’s resource recovery journey began by chance while studying software engineering at the Australian National University in Canberra.

“As a university student in 2009, I needed some form of income,” he says. “I had a couple of friends who were working dismantling e-waste, so I got into it that way.”

Alex Samsudin, Director, Green Technology Recycling (ACT).

Streamlining e-waste

Alex says his business, along with its NSW counterpart, has developed an edge by fostering relationships individually with what he calls ‘downstream vendors’, cutting out the middle person.

He says the business is also the only approved recycler for cathode-ray tube (CRT) screens in the ACT. Once dismantled, GTR sends the CRT glass to Nyrstar in Port Pirie, South Australia, where the glass is refined.

“We have a really good relationship with Nyrstar,” Alex says. “For our circuit boards and computer parts, we deal directly with major specialised refiners in Japan and South Korea.”

Alex says GTR is yet to come across an authorised operation for refining circuit boards and computer parts responsibly in Australia.

“We are always on the lookout but so far, our international partners are the only refiners that can meet our strict auditing standards,” he says.

While these direct relationships make better economic sense for GTR, Alex says doing business this way also requires that he manually tracks where material is going to ensure it is being recycled properly.

With the increasing scrutiny over where Australia’s e-waste ends up, this is something Alex and GTR takes seriously. It is also where Alex’s software engineering background has come in handy.

“Where the product is going, those companies are heavily audited by us to ensure compliance with national and international requirements,” he says. “We are also building our own waste management system to record our own data – what we receive and what we send out. We do it all in-house.”

Alex says another key part of GTR’s operations, and an important part of e-waste recycling overall, is maintaining data security.

“All data, regardless of the form, must be destroyed,” he says. “We take great care to ensure that all necessary data destruction occurs in our facility before anything is shipped out.”

The cost conundrum

Alex says one of the biggest challenges his business faces is the misguided notion that all electronic waste recycling can be done for free.

“Not everything can be done for free. There is a cost in doing things the right way, and that cost must sometimes be shared with our customer,” he says.

“People’s perception is that everything can be recycled, which is mostly true, but for some materials there’s a much higher cost involved.

“Inflation, fuel prices, transport costs, supply chain issues – these factors we can’t control all take a toll on small businesses like ours.”

It also helps to keep diversifying operations and pursue new e-waste streams. Alex says GTR ACT is applying for further accreditations, such as the globally recognised R2 certification, which will enable the business to service government departments.

Another way GTR ACT differentiates its operations is how it sources its staff – something Alex considers of critical importance.

He says the nature of much of the dismantling work is such that it can be easily broken down into simple stages and allows him to employ staff with learning disabilities or other barriers to entering the workforce.

“Partnering with Workways Australia, we solely focus on employing local residents of the ACT who might otherwise struggle to find work,” Alex says. “It’s a partnership that’s worked well for more than seven years.”

GTR partners with specialised refiners, such as Nyrstar for CRT glass.

Not all e-waste is born equal

Alex says while public knowledge around recycling electronic waste is improving, there is work to be done.

He says what is typically considered ‘e-waste’ is both too broad and regularly misunderstood.

Batteries and toner cartridges are regularly lumped in with e-waste, but the process for recycling them is altogether different. To ensure they are kept from landfill GTR passes batteries and ink toner on to specialised recyclers such as B-Cycle and Close the Loop. Alex says this can come at a cost to the business, but it’s a price they’re prepared to pay to do things properly.

Modern television panels are also an issue. Alex says there aren’t many recyclers in Australia that specialise in recycling them, which can mean a bottleneck for programs such as the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS). Like with CRT glass, hazardous content and a high degree of complexity means recycling them properly can be costly.

“Different companies manufacture television panels differently, there’s no standardised process,” Alex says. “They all use different glue, different silicone and different casings. Dismantling them is a very labour-intensive process.”

The recycling of end-of-life solar panels is also becoming a hot-button topic, especially as Australians push for more sustainable power alternatives. Alex says recycling solar panels presents many of the same challenges as modern television panels.

“Like with batteries and television panels, solar panels should not really be considered e-waste,” he says. “They are in a very different category. There’s an overlap, but that overlap is very, very small.”

Alex says this is something that Australia needs to address urgently.

“Everybody’s trying to do the right thing by the environment – installing new solar panels or upgrading old ones,” he says. “But better education and recycling solutions are going to be needed going forward.”

For more information, visit: www.greentechnologyrecycling.com.au

 

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ANZRP calls for national approach to e-waste

Australia’s first e-waste plastics recovery to be built in Albury

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