Volumes 2023

Increase in the processed volume in 2023

The volume of processed waste electrical and electronic equipment increased by 9% compared to the previous year, and has once again exceeded the 130,000 tonne mark. In 2023, more refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and waste electrical and electronic equipment in particular were processed. A less significant increase was recorded for large and small electrical appliances. There was, however, a clear decline in the processed volumes among photovoltaic and lighting equipment.

In 2023, the Swico and SENS recycling companies processed around 132,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), which represents a 9% year-on-year increase (see Table 1 and Figure 1). The processed volumes are now back to the 2015 level, ending the negative trend seen in recent years. The number of refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners rose by around 20% compared to the previous year. This sharp increase is due to the fact that more cooling appliances were fed into the recycling system on the one hand and inventories were reduced in 2023 on the other. The commissioning of two new systems to replace two old systems has made it possible to process this volume more efficiently. The volume of electronic equipment increased by 13% compared to the previous year. However, the volume of electronic equipment has steadily declined over the past decade. A 6% and 7% rise was observed among large electrical appliances and small electrical appliances respectively. A marked increase in the processed photovoltaic modules last year was followed by a 40% decline in 2023. The significant upswing in photovoltaic module last year was a result of hail damage in 2021, whereby most of the photovoltaic module was not recycled until 2022. The volume of non-ORDEE equipment that is not included in the lists provided in the Swiss Ordinance on the Return, Taking Back and Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (ORDEE) has decreased by 17% compared to the previous year.

Recovering recyclables

Groups of recyclables and pollutants are recovered from the processed WEEE by means of manual and mechanical processing (Figure 2). Metals make up the largest group of recyclable materials (61%). The next two largest groups are plastic/metal mixtures (20%) and plastics1 (7%). Cable and glass each account for around 2% of the total quantity of recycled materials. The particularly valuable printed circuit boards account for around 1.5% of the total quantity.

The groups of recyclables from Swico and SENS recycling companies are sent for further processing, where they are recycled or incinerated. Swico and SENS recycling companies have to provide evidence of material flows that describe how these groups are further processed. Certain downstream recipients are audited by the Swico/SENS TC auditors. Ferrous metals are processed in Switzerland or the EU. Plastic/metal mixtures are further separated. Depending on the separation process and composition, the metals and, in some cases, also the plastics are recovered. Certain mixed groups are still directly used for thermal recycling, although this proportion is constantly decreasing thanks to new processing options. Glass groups, as well as cables, printed circuit boards and batteries, are also sent to special recycling operations (often in the EU).

Pollutant removal

The share of pollutants produced accounts for around 1% of the total quantity (Figure 2). In addition to returning recyclables to the material cycle, pollutant removal is one of the main tasks undertaken by Swiss recycling companies. The pollutants are either removed manually in dismantling facilities or mechanically separated using specialised processes. For example, capacitors suspected of containing PCBs in large household appliances or ballasts, not to mention batteries in small WEEE, are manually removed. Pollutant removal and handling must constantly be adapted to changing technologies and the latest findings. Companies must also remain capable of properly removing and disposing of pollutants from older generations of equipment. This places high demands on the work of the recycling companies and necessitates robust quality assurance systems.

1 Plastics include both recycled and non-recycled plastics such as shredder light groups

Trends in dismantling

To identify a trend in manual dismantling, Figure 3 shows the quantities of the battery, capacitor and printed circuit board groups relative to the total quantity of processed equipment. The proportion of printed circuit board sorted out (both manually and mechanically) increased in 2023 compared to the previous year. This is due to the commissioning of new technology for sorting printed circuit boards. It is also apparent that the proportion of batteries is tending to increase. It can be assumed that growing awareness among recycling companies of the hazards of lithium batteries is leading to more batteries being removed manually. The proportion of removed capacitors has remained steady over the years, but a slight decrease has been observed over the last three years, the latter of which can be explained by capacitor development and the less comprehensive dismantling process.

Take-back and composition of electronic equipment

Swico Recycling regularly inspects the quantities taken back and the composition of electronic equipment. To this end, it conducts shopping basket analyses and performs product group processing tests (Table 2). In 2023, Swico Recycling took back 39,018 tonnes2 of electronic equipment – 3% less than in the previous year. The corresponding quantities of CRT televisions continue declining, thereby continuing the long-term trend. The total weight of FPD monitors and televisions taken back fell by around 3% compared to the previous year, although the number of units rose slightly. The number of mobile phones and consumer electronics continues to increase. However, as the average weights of mobile phones and consumer electronics have fallen, the result has been a 3% drop in total weight. For the remaining groups such as PCs, laptops, printers, copiers and other IT equipment, the collected weight has decreased, which can be attributed to a drop in unit quantities for PCs, laptops and copiers and to a decline in average weights for printers and other IT equipment.

The composition of the individual equipment categories is determined by processing tests carried out by Swico Recycling companies. During this process, a predetermined volume of equipment is collected and the groups resulting from the processing activities are documented. The detailed take-back quantities of electronic equipment and its composition are listed in Table 2.

2 This figure is greater than the 35,500 tonnes of electronic equipment in Table 1, as it also includes equipment disposed of by A-signatories under direct contracts. In addition, the quantities specified in the previous chapters contain the quantities processed but not the quantities collected.