Three syndicates one goal
Whatever item is produced, the manufacturer is also responsible for the proper disposal and recycling of its components. This much was established in the European principle of extended producer responsibility, which regulates the disposal of many products, several of which are used also in the auto repair chain.
Whatever item is produced, the manufacturer is also responsible for the proper disposal and recycling of its components. This much was established in the European principle of extended producer responsibility, which regulates the disposal of many products, several of which are used also in the auto repair chain. Hence the buyer, when purchasing a new product pays a contribution for the collection and disposal of those that are no longer usable, and supports a number of syndicates engaged in collecting, treating and recycling end-of-life goods. One of these syndicates, Ecoped, is a group of founded in 2006 for the collection of WEEE (waste from electrical and electronic equipment). Formed by more than 600 manufacturers of small household appliances, electromechanical equipment, hobby and sports equipment, batteries and tires, it is chaired by Giuliano Maddalena, who told us about the history and goals of the consortium he chairs as well as its two spin-offs dedicated to batteries (Ecopower) and tires (Pneulife), which in 2008 and 2017 respectively, adopted the same approach and organization in their respective sectors.
How did Ecoped come to life, and why?
We have assisted producers, developed a network, introduced traceability and qualification systems. Those who wish to work with the consortium must qualify and submit their company to an audit that will assess their compliance with current regulations as well as the internal regulations of the consortium (Ecocard) that sets the standard in terms of correct means of transportation, storage and treatment, and sometimes even with stricter environmental and safety rules than what is established by law.
Has the same method of operation been reintroduced with Ecopower and Pneulife?
"Yes. We started with batteries, since both manufacturers and importers had already shown their appreciation for the work done by Ecoped. Ecopower, on the other hand, came to life as as an internal division of Ecoped in 2009, as a result of a specific law on battery manufacturers, and became an independent entity in 2012. It now deals with lead-acid batteries of all kinds: ignition, traction, stationary use, in quantities ranging from a few kilograms to several tons per collection. Pneulife, instead, was founded in 2017 and its main producer is Yokohama".
What is the purpose of the materials obtained from the end-of-life goods? How and where are they treated?
"In line with the concept of a circular economy, we favour the recovery of materials to be used as secondary raw materials (raw materials obtained from recycling, editor's note) over energy recovery. With batteries, the operation is relatively simple: lead and lead oxide are sent to a foundry and re-melted as well as the polypropylene containers; sulphuric acid is also treated, neutralized and reused in the production of industrial salts and fertilizers. Very little is discarded: at least 94% is recycled. Our batteries are treated in Italy, where foundries (previously subjected to our control), thanks to cutting-edge technology and very strict rules, are able to guarantee the best possible treatment: no sulphuric acid is spewed into the atmosphere, nor in the surrounding environment and they make sure none of it is found in the resulting products. From ELTs we are able to recover iron, rubber powder and fabric cords. The first is recycled, while from the other two we can obtain secondary materials (for example, to make sport court floorings, animal bedding, anti-noise asphalt and, in a very small portion, new tires) and fuels for cement factories and blast furnaces. Pneulife too favours recycling: more than 80% of the material is used to make secondary raw material, although its use as fuel can also benefit the environmental as it replaces coke. Treating Weee, on the other hand, is rather complex and our specification on the matter require that at least 35% of the plastic is recycled and at least seven of the rare elements the electronic boards contain are recovered. Part of the plastic is still sent to landfill because it contains flame retardants that prevent combustion, while retardant-free polymers can be converted into granules ready for use.
Have you ever found any fraudulent attempts or other illegal aspects? If so, how do you defend yourself?
"That’s rather difficult with Weee because 80% of the collected material comes from domestic users. With tires, on the other hand, fraud is possible: the number of ELT’s to be disposed of is higher than the amount of tires sold, and that's why among the many parameters, we pay special attention to the business volume of a store. A tire specialist with small facilities and low business volumes who requires the collection of large quantities of ELTs has either undeclared sales or gathers ELTs on behalf of other operators with dodgy methods. In cases such as this, we simply refuse to collect the tires, so as not to create an imbalance between the contributions received and the costs of the operations, which would damage both the image and the economic efficiency of our consortium. Batteries too bring their load of risks: last year in the area of Milan the theft of a few spent batteries were reported from a municipal waste collection centre. Once the acid was emptied on the ground in the open countryside, they were illegally smuggled abroad. An operation that is dangerous both for the environment and for safety".
What kind of suppliers do you look for and how do you choose them?
"Basically, we look for transport companies to collect tires and batteries as well as recycling companies. All the paperwork must be in order and they must go through, and pass, our initial audit as well as periodic checks besides being perfectly in order as far as safety in the workplace is concerned. Our supply chain control system, certified by Tüv, is both regulated and monitored.