El-Kretsen and the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the UN member states agreed to create Agenda 2030 and a set of global sustainability goals – a universal agenda for sustainable development. The Agenda comprises 17 goals and 169 interim targets, as well as 230 indicators of social, financial and environmental sustainability. Several of these targets touch on one another, and El-Kretsen’s core business – a circular economy – also touches on several. Of the 17 global sustainability goals, we have selected four for their strong and direct connection to El-Kretsen’s operations. Within these four goals, there are seven specific targets that El-Kretsen regards as particularly important as they affect our organisation, or are affected by us, and also happen to be open to our efforts to create change.

Target: 11.6 Reduce the environmental impact on cities

Why is this important to El-Kretsen?

Over the past century, communities and cities have been growing in both size and number through continuous urbanisation. Today, around 90 per cent of Sweden’s population live in urban areas. More people equals more waste, which puts pressure on cities and communities to provide the capacity and alternatives necessary for safe and efficient waste handling. In El-Kretsen’s view, the society we live in should be made up of clean, safe, including, sustainable and pleasant cities that are attractive to both people and animals. El-Kretsen is a key operator in the general effort to enable the collection of WEEE and batteries and make it more efficient, whether the items collected are reused, recycled or simply hazardous goods safely taken care of.

How does El-Kretsen relate to goal 11 and what action is being taken?

Target 11.6 deals with reducing the negative environmental impact of cities, with a focus on waste management. Many electronics and battery producers use El-Kretsen’s services to make sure that at the end of their products’ useful life, they are collected and taken care of in the best way possible. The procedure for this is partially regulated by the producer responsibility ordinances that govern the activities of producers, El-Kretsen’s and Sweden’s municipalities. The ongoing dialogue between different stakeholders such as the municipalities, their umbrella organisation Swedish Waste Management (“Avfall Sverige”) and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (“Sveriges Kommuner och Regioner” or SKR) provides an opportunity to hone both the exchange of knowledge and shared working models. In conjunction with our structured approach of recording any collection inconsistencies and our constant endeavours to improve, the above dialogue aims to facilitate waste sorting and handling as well as to ensure that there is no risk of hazardous waste ending up in nature. Another positive outcome is that more and more batteries and electrical and electronic products are returned to society through reuse and materials recovery.

An indicator used for this target is measuring and following up on how much waste is handled as well as in what way, all in relation to the total volume of waste recorded. El-Kretsen carries out such follow-up analyses on a regular basis. This is also one of the goals in the producer responsibility legislation.

Examples of challenges

A growing number of products come with integrated electronics and batteries. When it comes to informing people that these products need to be recycled as well as motivating them to do so, there is as of yet no ready-made solution. The process is still being developed and tested. The information will need to reach both the decision-makers of today and those of tomorrow, whether they be decision-makers on a personal, local or national level.

Some WEEE is attractive to thieves. Needless to say, break-ins at collection facilities is a source of concern and unease for those who work there. Thefts also mean that the material disappears from the approved collection system and is handled by those who are only looking for the highest possible profit, which in turn increases the risk of dangerous substances such as oils, heavy metals and chemicals not being handled in a sustainable manner.

Lithium batteries have an amazing capacity for storage and being recharged. At the same time, they also constitute a risk at the end of their useful life. They contain a lot of energy, and if they catch fire this is very difficult to put out. In 2022, El-Kretsen improved the collection process for large and/or damaged batteries by introducing special bags that now line the inside of the battery collection vessels, completely surrounding the insulating material Vermiculite. The aim is to make the entire collection and recycling process safer and reduce the risk of potential fires spreading.

Target: 12.4 Responsible handling of chemicals and waste
Target: 12.5 Significantly reduce the amount of waste
Target: 12.8 Increase people’s awareness of sustainable life styles

Why is this important to El-Kretsen?

Over the past century, communities and cities have been growing in both size and number through continuous urbanisation. Today, around 90 per cent of Sweden’s population live in urban areas. More people equals more waste, which puts pressure on cities and communities to provide the capacity and alternatives necessary for safe and efficient waste handling. In El-KreWe need to transition into a life-style where our production and consumption are sustainable in the long run. In a linear economy, the globe’s resources are used as if they were endless. In a circular economy, we strive to give our resources as long a life as we meaningfully can, by reusing, restoring, upgrading and recycling items to the highest value possible. As a facilitator of technological recycling, El-Kretsen is a key performer in the circular transition process. However, Goal 12 also pinpoints competitiveness and economy. Some producers have already experienced the effects of a shortage of resources. Keeping re-circulating the materials we have already started using is an important aspect of making sure we can supply enough raw materials in the future.

How does El-Kretsen relate to goal 12 and what action is being taken?

El-Kretsen contributes to reaching Goal 12 by collecting WEEE and batteries, by removing and treating any hazardous substances hidden inside these products and by then reintroducing as much of the recovered material as possible to circulation. In 2022, 75 % of the collected weight was recovered. Iron is the most common material, followed by plastics, aluminium, glass, copper and other metals. To encourage and facilitate the development of recycling technologies, El-Kretsen focuses on long-term contracts and close co-operation with its suppliers. This creates an incentive to develop and invest in new solutions for a greater number of more efficient recycling processes. An example of this is our close co-operation with Stena Recycling and their investment into recycling plastics. There is now a facility for turning plastic WEEE into a number of different plastic fractions of such a high quality that these products can be sold directly to the manufacturing industry.

When it comes to Target 12.4, El-Kretsen is ISO certified with respect to the environment and to quality. Not only that, we also require all our partners in the recycling chain to have implemented a methodical environmental management system. Moreover, our WEEE recycling partners must be able to present third-party certification for the standards Weelabex and Cenelec for the treatment of electronic and electrical waste. The indicators for this target are concerned with international agreements on information, which is also one of El-Kretsen’s focus points. Another indicator deals with quantifying and following up how much hazardous waste is generated per person and then relating that figure to how much has been collected and how the collected items have been treated. El-Kretsen is working to map out these flows. As more homogenous information is delivered from an increasing number of organisations, it will become easier to compare the processes and goals of these organisations. The ultimate aim is to identify the best and most efficient process. As our industry is rated as a whole by collection systems and other customers, this will also further all general developments in this field. Developments are powered by the motto of “following best practice”.

Target 12.5 focuses on significantly reducing the volume of waste. For El-Kretsen, the implications of this target are that items not meant to be handled as WEEE (such as products that are still working) should never be thrown away as waste. In 2020, El-Kretsen renewed its cooperation agreements with all Swedish municipalities. The agreements now include a clause which refers to the municipalities’ efforts to encourage reuse. The aim is to make those who work at recycling centres and other collection facilities help recyclers place their waste in the correct vessels. However, before this can become the norm, the municipalities need a structure and a plan for how to work with reuse. For this target, the indicator is the number of tonnes of materials that are collected and recycled, data which El-Kretsen has been collecting and reporting since the very beginning in 2001.

Target 12.8 deals with educating people and providing continuous learning for the decision-makers of tomorrow. Both El-Kretsen and Sweden’s municipalities are working to produce information that will assist and motivate people to make the right choices. To achieve this, the information material we produce is spread through many channels:

  • via municipalities
  • via joint trade projects (such as the info channel Sopor.nu) and other more short-term campaigns (such as International E-Waste Day)
  • via educational materials such as special editions of the Swedish comic Bamse (ages 5-9) and in the book “Natur- & miljöboken” (“A Book on Nature and the Environment”, ages 10-12).

El-Kretsen also has a separate website, the Sustainability Library, where the general public can find articles and facts on many different topics, such as information and briefs on sustainability in relation to electrical equipment and batteries. In 2022, we also started posting information on TikTok in an attempt to reach out directly to the next generation of decision-makers. The information El-Kretsen produces as a basis for publishers of educational media is in line with the target indicator and will hopefully be useful in the shaping of national policies on how to teach sustainability as well as how to rate the levels of this knowledge.

Examples of challenges

Keeping up-to-date with what actually constitutes “best practice” is a continuous and time-consuming task. Electrical products are constantly being developed, and this puts pressure on the recycling business to develop in order to keep up. One good example is TVs, which in a few decades have gone from CRT sets to plasma screens to LCD screens – and now to LED screens. These are based on four totally different kinds of technology which each require totally different recycling processes to be efficiently treated. This puts pressure on research and developments, as well as on close communication between the recycling industry and producers. Producers will always be one step ahead and can provide the most accurate information on exactly what their products are made of.

Reuse is one way of reducing the volume of waste, at least temporarily. In the end, however, reused products will also need to be recycled. Today, there is a problem with measuring the reuse flows, as they are often headed for other countries. This direction of flow also makes it difficult to know just how these items are treated when they finally reach the end of their useful life.

Using weight as the only measuring tool has proven to be a bit of a blunt instrument. Everything we collect and treat is taken into account in our statistics, but we know that the sustainability aspects of different materials vary enormously, as do the different treatment processes for materials like, for example, concrete versus cadmium. Picturing a future where all substances and materials are to be treated and largely recovered, it will be important to be able to deal with metals in very small quantities as well. Producer responsibility for batteries will soon include this kind of target-setting.

Target: 13.3 Increase the knowledge and capacity to handle climate change

Why is this important to El-Kretsen?

These days, extreme weather is a recurring and frequently mentioned news item. The worst and most destructive events take place in other countries, but Sweden is not totally unaffected. Climate change affects both food and water supplies. It destroys eco systems (for example by acidifying the sea) and this in turn negatively affects our living conditions, health and safety. We (whether we are individuals, companies, municipalities, societies or countries) also affect the climate negatively through our greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, we can be part of the solution and help coming generations to a life on a healthy planet with clean water, clean air and a healthy eco system providing nutritious food and a stable climate.

How does El-Kretsen relate to goal 13 and what action is being taken?

El-Kretsen itself affects the climate both positively and negatively. The positive aspects that relate to Goal 13 can be directly linked to our core business. Our collection and handling of products containing refrigerants (like refrigerators and air-source heat pumps) reduces the risk that these will leak out into nature and have a negative effect on the climate. Another positive effect from our operations is the energy we save from recycling new raw materials compared with sourcing virgin raw materials from deep inside the earth. Mining and oil drilling are very energy-intensive activities, so the more producers can use recycled materials for their production, the more they will reduce their carbon footprint.
El-Kretsen’s main negative impact stems from transporting the 150,000 tonnes of waste products from collection points to recycling facilities.

The scope of Target 13.3 is quite broad, and at El-Kretsen we have continuous and long-term ambitions both in-house (placing demands on our sub-contractors; taking part in joint industry initiatives such as Fair Transport; keeping up to date with the latest research developments, etc) and externally (by being able to offer expert advice in view of changes in the legislation or when it comes to preparing and producing informational and educational materials).

Examples of challenges

A fossil-free transport sector is a non-negotiable goal. However, the combination of a lack of renewable fuels and the lack of fully built-out systems to support new technologies like electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles means that the transport sector will remain dependent on fossil fuels for some time to come. The best option El-Kretsen has of reducing its logistical climate impact is making sure that our transporters drive as few tonne kilometres as possible – or, in other words, that they drive the shortest possible distance carrying the greatest possible load.

Considering all the environmental aspects of a product and comparing different scenarios with one another is generally a complex task. However, introducing a tool such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) suddenly makes it possible to estimate the carbon footprint of a certain product. But trying to determine which is best, making a product with a longer life span but less efficient recycling process or a product with a shorter life span but with an established recycling process is till fraught with uncertainty. The “truth” may vary from product to product, which only adds to the difficulties of climate communication. This points to an educational challenge to make sure that all decision-makers – from children in kindergarten to politicians – make informed and wise decisions.

Target: 17 Partnerships for the goals

Why is this important to El-Kretsen?

When it comes to recycling, Sweden is often thought to be a role model. Intense technological progress teams up with sophisticated know-how. The Swedish culture and high general level of societal involvement also account for the fact that recycling is regarded as important. All in all, these characteristics team up to produce a good chance of achieving high collection rates and ensuring that the collected waste is handled efficiently. But no matter how great El-Kretsen’s figures are, the volumes of WEEE we collect still only account for less than 0.5 per cent of all the electronic waste generated world-wide. This is why sharing our knowledge with others remains a good way of educating even more people and raising the chances of reaching the Environmental Goals.

How does El-Kretsen relate to goal 13 and what action is being taken?

Our international cooperation has primarily included our neighbouring countries. They have been the obvious partners for joint development projects and knowledge exchange. European umbrella organisations such as Weee Forum and EUCOBAT work to facilitate knowledge transfer between their member countries. They also run development projects and studies, for example within the area of illegal waste export. Being a member of these organisations offers El-Kretsen a possibility to gain new knowledge and also make new contacts.

Since the pandemic, contacts with countries outside the EU have not been as frequent as they used to be. A few delegations have come to meet face-to-face and to discuss the legal framework around producer responsibility and/or the logistical and technical solutions available on this front. Against the background of target 17.6, El-Kretsen invites anyone interested in knowing more about how we deal with producer responsibility and what the collection and treatment means in practical terms. Insofar as we engage in development efforts and projects that may be useful to other parties, we are happy to contribute by sharing these. This is a simple way of making circular progress in areas and places that are slightly behind on the curve.

Some of these studies have a more obvious connection to Target 17 because they relate to export or reuse in other countries.

Examples of challenges

Electronic and electrical waste is the fastest growing waste category in the world, and the challenges it brings are virtually endless. To put El-Kretsen in a better position to influence the handling of WEEE, this area needs to be narrowed down to those parts or projects that we are actually able to influence. Sharing and spreading knowledge directly, via other partners or together with other partners is one way of doing this. Another way can be taking part in individual projects. Our specific challenge is that El-Kretsen is a relatively small organisation and as such, the number of staff is a limiting factor. We still adhere to the old motto of thinking globally but acting locally, even though our ambition is to power positive development not only in Sweden, but in the entire world.

Published 2023-06-30