11 July 2016
Leading the Way in e-Waste Recycling
ALBA Integrated Waste Solutions Hong Kong Ltd is building a waste electrical and electronic equipment treatment and recycling facility (WEEETRF) in the city to recycle regulated electric and electronic-waste, such as computers, televisions, air-conditioners and refrigerators, into valuable raw materials. These items, if dumped in landfills or burned, are highly toxic to the environment.
Its parent company, Berlin-headquartered ALBA Group, is among the world’s leading recycling, environmental services and raw materials companies. With its two brands, ALBA and Interseroh, the group operates in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and Asia, with an annual turnover of about €2.2 billion in 2015.
Committed to Hong Kong
The company had been in Hong Kong since the 1990s, operating in the raw materials trade, according to Nigel Mattravers, Director and General Manager at ALBA Integrated Waste Solutions.
He said Asia has long been in the sights of the group’s owners – brothers Axel and Eric Schweitzer – as they hunt for growth markets.
“Axel got on a plane and came to Hong Kong, where he has a secondary residence now,” Mr Mattravers said, adding that the company board chairman’s willingness to spend a significant part of his time in Hong Kong demonstrates commitment. “If you’re trying to develop a business and control it from Germany – or anywhere in Europe – it’s obviously far more difficult.”
In 2015, ALBA won a government contract to design and build the facility, located at Tuen Mun EcoPark, and operate it until 2027 under a joint venture with local recycling company Integrated Waste Solutions Group Holdings Ltd (IWS). Construction began in January 2016 and is slated for completion by mid-2017, when the facility will initially recycle 30,000 tonnes of e-waste, with an eventual annual capacity of 56,000 tonnes.
Avoiding Global Pollution
According to Mr Mattravers, e-waste from developed economies routinely gets shipped off to such nations as Laos, Vietnam, Pakistan and Ghana, where “a lot of the time all they do is set fire to it – basically because all they are after is the valuable metals like copper and silver.” That method releases toxins into the air, water and soil, “and workers are exposed to it,” he said. “The Hong Kong Government is saying that this is not acceptable – as other governments around the world are also saying.”
ALBA will collect and dismantle such equipment in a manner that protects the environment and people, safely recovering components including toxins such as gases and heavy metals – as well as valuable metals like aluminum, copper and gold. The recycling phase of the treatment produces secondary raw materials, which can be reprocessed to make new products, which in turn offers carbon savings and significantly reduces the amount of water needed for manufacturing with new materials, Mr Mattravers said.
Every single item processed will be tracked. Old laptops handed in, for example, will be bar-coded and tracked all the way through to their ultimate dismantling. “If owners want to know what happened to them, we can tell them,” Mr Mattravers said. “For companies, that’s important – they want a certificate as part of their corporate social responsibility to show that this material has been disposed responsibly.”
ALBA and IWS will set up collection points across Hong Kong and deploy a fleet of trucks to bring the goods to Tuen Mun.
Mr Mattravers believes the plant is “probably the first of its kind in Asia.” It may even be a world first to have so many processes in one site. “There are companies [engaged in e-waste recycling], but they deal with the waste as it comes from manufacturing – there aren’t many that deal with the post-consumer product,” he said.
Even ALBA’s German operations take place in different factories. “Hong Kong, as an integrated plant, is leading the way,” he said.
The Hong Kong plant is now a flagship project, both for Hong Kong and for ALBA, “and we hope it will be a springboard for more work in China and the region,” Mr Mattravers said.
Already, the company’s presence in Hong Kong has helped to secure major projects on the Chinese mainland.
Major China Projects
In 2015, ALBA Group signed an agreement with two mainland partners, Guangdong Rising Assets Management Co Ltd and Zhongde Metal Group Co Ltd, on the shared development and operation of several highly efficient household waste-treatment systems in various mainland regions. The agreement also covers ALBA’s participation in the Green Power project in the Sino-German Metal Eco City in Jieyang, Guangdong, to construct the first facility for the production of green coal from municipal waste in China.
With Singapore and Malaysia also looking into e-waste solutions, Mr Mattravers hopes the company’s work spreads to Southeast Asia.
“Hong Kong has always been a very good launch point to China and regional markets, and we find – like a lot of businesses – that it’s very useful to have a legal entity in Hong Kong.”
Mr Mattravers added that the WEEETRF is a flagship project that will serve as a model for other countries and regions. “We’re excited about it, as we genuinely believe we’re going to come up with a really good solution that we can be proud of in a business sense.”