Handover meeting from Empa to dss+: (from left to right) Dennis Lackovic, Manuele Capelli, Andreas Bill, Esther Thiébaud, Judith Bellaiche, Heinz Böni, Roger Gnos, Jakob Knauf
Swico and Empa

Swico and Empa – the successful 30-year collaboration came to an end in late 2023

The ETH Domain’s competence centre for materials science and technology, Empa, has provided Swico with significant support in setting up and further developing the recycling system over the last 30 years. Due to the rising focus on research and the reduction of services at Empa, the collaboration was discontinued in late 2023.

When Swico and a group of manufacturers took the initiative in 1993 – without legal obligation – to develop a comprehensive recycling concept for computers and electronic office equipment, the question of how to ensure consistently high recycling quality among recycling partners also arose. These industry pioneers, who also took a risk with this step, wanted to prevent a situation where their request did not achieve or insufficiently achieved the desired environmental benefits. When considering the selection of an external inspection body, the factors of high quality standards and independence took centre stage. It therefore became clear that a commercial company potentially subject to conflicts of interests was out of the question. Approaching Empa (at that time still known as the Federal Materials Testing Institute) seemed like the obvious choice. During this period, the Ecology and Circular Economy Department was on its way to accreditation as a certification body for environmental management in accordance with ISO 14001. Swico’s request was therefore met with open ears at Empa right from the start.

As a result, Empa was entrusted with the task of a certification and monitoring office right from the beginning of the Swico recycling guarantee on 1 April 1994. During the first reporting year, over 20 companies were evaluated, 16 of which were admitted to the certification process. Ultimately, 12 companies prevailed. In addition to what were then biannual on-site company inspections conducted by the seven auditors, material flow control was also important. It was essential to ensure that the processing partners recycled or disposed of their fractions produced by manual dismantling and mechanical processing in an environmentally friendly manner. Around 3,000 tonnes of computers and office equipment were taken back and processed during the first year of operation. At that time, most of the equipment still came directly from manufacturers. The trade and collection points did not become important pillars in Swico’s delicate collection network until later.

Over the years, both the quantities and the complexity of the flow of goods have steadily increased. In 1999, mobile phones were included in the collection system, followed by the graphics industry in 2000, telephony in 2001 and consumer electronics in 2002.

At the beginning, the audits by Swico and SENS were sometimes conducted separately for the same recycling partners based on different technical regulations. The audits were later merged. In 2009, the processing regulations were harmonised and merged into the common technical regulations of Swico and SENS on the initiative of Empa. In 2017, Swico began implementing the European EN 50625 regulations, which were adopted as the Swiss standard. SENS followed suit three years later.

In addition to auditing and material flow control, Empa’s services also included performing processing and batch tests with recycling partners. These formed the basis for assessing the recycling and recovery rates, as well as compliance with the benchmarks and thresholds for pollutants in the shredder light fraction.

To keep recycling activities at the cutting edge, Empa carried out various research projects in collaboration with other experts. Of particular note are the studies on PCBs in capacitors (2007), the disposal of flat screens (2011), the recovery of indium and neodymium (e-Recmet study by the FOEN, 2015), the disposal situation for CRT monitors (2016), and, over several years, on handling lithium batteries and plastics.

Their extensive experience in the field of electronic waste recycling has led the Empa experts to be involved in European committees right from the start, and they have implemented projects for the sustainable handling of electronic waste in developing and emerging countries together with local partners on behalf of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). The ‘Swiss e-waste Programme’ that ran from 2003 to 2012 and the subsequent ‘Sustainable Recycling Industries’ programme from 2013 to 2025 paved the way for successful technology cooperation with partners in the Global South. Swico supported the establishment of take-back systems in a number of countries together with Empa.

Both parties have benefited from 30 years of collaboration in consulting and research through the exchange of both knowledge and experiences. Swico gained the guarantee that the environmental and technical requirements regarding processing could be brought to and maintained at a high level at all recycling partners, while Empa expanded the scientific perspective with practical experience and knowledge and drove research forward in this regard. The collaboration and the different perspectives of the individuals involved at Swico, Empa, the recycling partners, the associations and the public institutions also led to great personal enrichment.

Empa withdrew from auditing activities in late 2023 and therefore discontinued this service for Swico. We would like to offer our sincere thanks for the excellent cooperation we have enjoyed over the past three decades. Empa will remain available as an expert partner for joint research projects related to the circular economy. We look forward to overcoming future challenges together.

Farewell to a pioneer

With the 30th anniversary of Swico Recycling just around the corner, Heinz Böni is taking his well-deserved retirement. His work in establishing the smooth recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment in Switzerland and its consistent further development has been truly pioneering. The trust of those involved has grown from the quality and reputation of the system – and Heinz Böni played a key role here. He not only led the Swico audit body for the last 15 years, where he continuously improved processes, but also introduced and trained a number of employees in this field. As part of the international cooperation activities, he also ensured an important transfer of knowledge between Switzerland and South America regarding the recycling of electronic waste.

Swico would like to thank Heinz Böni for his tireless commitment and dedication to clean recycling in Switzerland.

From left to right: Judith Bellaiche, Heinz Böni, Esther Thiébaud