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Data Entry: September 2011
Name of recycling technology Recycling of Used Home Appliances
Name of recycler Eco-Recycle Co., Ltd.
Location Northern Akita Prefecture
Name of eco industrial park -
Receiving waste materials for recycling - Used home appliances specified in Japanfs home appliance recycling law (refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, clothes dryers, air conditioners and television sets)
- Used personal computers
- Used office machines
Recycled products/recovered materials Glass cullet from CRTs, printed circuit boards, copper wire, plastic flakes, ferrous materials, aluminum materials, motors, etc.
Capacity of recycling plant 6,000 t/year
Area of recycling plant 5,056 m2 (total area of main buildings)
Number of employees in recycling plant 52
Start of recycling operation May 26, 2000
Technical description Used home appliances, used personal computers, used office machines, used small electronic devices, etc. are manually dismantled, and then crushed and shredded, washed, sorted and separated via mechanical processes to recover glass cullet, plastic flakes, ferrous materials, aluminum materials, as well as printed circuit boards and motors, etc.

Recycling process
  • Manual dismantling
    - Received equipment is manually dismantled as far as possible.
    - Motors, printed circuit boards, CRTs, deflection yokes, compressors, heat exchangers, copper pipes, plastic components, etc. are recovered.
    - Dismantling into components and materials as far as possible before crushing and shredding helps increase the value of final materials
  • Crushing/shredding and separating/sorting
    - Outer shells/cabinets of washing machines and refrigerators, etc. as well as items that cannot be manually dismantled are crushed and shredded with crushers and shredders, and then sorted by material with magnetic separators, eddy current separators, pneumatic separators, etc.
    - CFC refrigerants in refrigerators and air conditioners are condensed, liquefied, and recovered in dedicated gas cylinders.
    - Refrigerator cabinets are crushed and shredded to be sorted and separated by materials. Crushed and shredded materials are sorted and separated into metal materials and non-metal materials with magnetic separators and eddy current separators. Urethane powder generated in the crushing and shredding processes is recovered with pneumatic separators. CFC gases released from urethane insulation materials in the crushing and shredding processes are recovered from the crushing/shredding unit together with the air.
    - CFC gases recovered from insulation materials of refrigerators and CFC refrigerants recovered into dedicated gas cylinders are destroyed by an incinerator of their group company (Eco-system Akita Co., Ltd.) adjacent to their company.
  • Recycling of recovered materials
    - Printed circuit boards, copper wire, ferrous materials, and glass cullet recovered from CRT funnel glass are transported to a group company (Kosaka Smelting & Refining Co., Ltd.), and used as raw materials to recover valuable metals (including gold, silver, copper, and lead).
    - Glass cullet recovered from CRT panel glass is sold as glass wool material.
    - Urethane recovered from refrigerators, and unrecyclable plastics are used as additional fuel for the incinerator of a group company (Eco-system Akita Co., Ltd.) adjacent to their company.
    - Other materials recovered are sold as raw materials for recycling.
Background of starting recycling business and participating in eco-town program
  • Launching a new business
    - Eco-Recycle Co., Ltd. is a group company of Dowa Holdings Co., Ltd., which was a mine operator in northern Akita Prefecture. The Hanaoka District, which is where the recycling plant is located, was home to the Hanaoka Mine which produced copper, lead, and zinc. However, when the mine closed in 1994, it was necessary to create jobs for employees by launching a new business.
  • Needs for stimulating the local economy
    - The Hanaoka Mine had served as the industrial base of Odate City, and so the city sought to attract new industries after the mine closed.
  • Enforcement of the recycling law
    - The Home Appliance Recycling Law (national law) was enacted in 1998 and due to be enforced from 2001, so the demand for recycling home appliances was expected to increase.
  • Eco-town program planned by the local government
    - The Akita Prefectural Government was preparing an eco-town program.
Fund procurement The initial investment was about JPY500 million. The company was able to receive subsidies from the national government (about 50%) and the Akita Prefectural Government (about 1%) 
Major success factors
  • Utilizing technologies developed for mining operations
    - As part of mining operations, various sophisticated smelting technologies were developed for recovering trace metals from ores. Since the days of mining operations, treatment technologies have been established and maintained for detoxifying harmful wastewater and effluent gases to prevent environmental pollution. The company's current technologies are based on environmental technologies for mining and refining operations.
    - The company's CFC destruction technologies were developed based on the incineration technologies used in the smelting process of mining.
  • Building a network with group companies and local companies, and securing customers
    - In northern Akita Prefecture, the company has a network with group companies of Dowa Holdings Co., Ltd. (including companies engaged in nonferrous metal smelting, waste incineration, and final waste disposal). A network with local companies has also been maintained since the days of mining.
    - This network with group companies and local companies has given the company sales channels for materials recovered from the recycling process.
    - The company can judge the extent to which used home appliances should be dismantled, crushed, and shredded depending on the recycling technologies of companies that accept recovered materials from the company. Thus, the network with group companies, etc. is also technologically useful.
  • Reducing initial investment
    - When the company launched the recycling business, it was not clear whether recycling home appliances would be successful and profitable, and whether a sufficient volume of used home appliances could be collected.
    - The company therefore minimized the initial investment by using existing assets as far as possible (e.g., using existing buildings of mining facilities as recycling plants).
    - The overall collection rate of used home appliances in Japan is now estimated to be about 50%, and the company's recycling business has been profitable.
  • Making prior investment in technologies
    - When initially enforced, the Home Appliance Recycling Law (national law) required the recovery of CFC refrigerants alone; CFCs contained in insulation materials of refrigerators, etc. were not within the scope of recovery. However, the company anticipated that CFCs contained in insulation materials would have to be dealt with eventually, so when building the recycling facilities the company designed and installed a system for recovering these CFCs.
  • Keeping good relations with local citizens based on trust
    - Since its mining days, the Dowa Group has voluntarily acted to protect the environment beyond the scope required by law, and has not caused any environmental problems. Based on past accomplishments, group companies have built good relations with local citizens based on trust, which helped win their support when launching the recycling business.
Issues and Challenges
  • Changes in the volume of used home appliances collected
    - The volume of used home appliances generated changes depending on the season and year.
  • Developing workers'capabilities
    - Recycling plants are required to handle home appliances that were manufactured at different times, so the work efficiency of the recycling process is also affected by the workers' expertise and experience. It is important to develop their skills.
  • Communications with local citizens
    - In doing the recycling business, cooperation with local citizens is important. Every year, the company reports to chairmen of neighboring local communities on the operation status, and invite local citizens and elementary/junior high school students to a plant tour, to build trust and disclose information.
  • Developing technologies
    - As part of prior investment, the Dowa Group continues to develop technologies.
    - The company has been able to receive subsidies from the Akita Prefectural Government to cover technology development costs.
Future prospects
  • The market is not expected to expand only with the items specified in the current Home Appliance Recycling Law, so the company has been developing technologies for (i) expanding the scope of recyclable items and (ii) recovering rare metals.
  • The business of recycling used home appliances does not work simply by dismantling, sorting, and separating used home appliances. Customers for the recovered materials must be secured first.
  • Existing smelting technologies of mining companies can be used to develop technologies for recovering rare metals. The key point is how to combine existing technologies.
  • The home appliances recycling business requires an established legal framework. To ensure stable operation of the recycling business, the national government should take measures to minimize changes in the volume of used home appliances generated. Preferably, the government should also take measures to expand the scope of used home appliances required to be collected. It is also necessary to develop technologies to handle the expanded scope of used home appliances collected.

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