More efficient recycling of large appliances like fridges at automated plant in Tuas

EWR2 started operations in March this year and uses specialised tools and machinery for the recycling process. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A household refrigerator or a washing machine can now be recycled efficiently at a new facility here, the first of its kind in Singapore that uses automation to recycle large household appliances.

EWR2, about 47,420 square feet in size, started operations in March this year and uses specialised tools and machinery for the recycling process that can reduce manpower needed significantly.

Through the automated process, up to 95 per cent of materials used to make the device or appliance can be recovered, of which about 80 per cent can be recycled. The remaining materials that cannot be recycled will be incinerated.

Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor said on Tuesday (July 13) that large household appliances are typically more challenging to recycle than other types of e-waste like information and computer technology (ICT) equipment.

"This is because the recycling process for large household appliances require highly specialised tools and machinery and the recovered components are typically of lower value," she said during a visit to the facility.

About 60,000 tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) are generated in Singapore annually, equivalent to each person throwing away about 70 mobile phones each year.

With the volume expected to increase, e-waste is one of the priority areas identified under Singapore's Zero Waste Masterplan - a plan to reduce one-third of the waste sent to Semakau Landfill by 2030.

Licensed by the National Environment Agency and located in Tuas, EWR2 can recycle up to 13,000 tonnes of large household appliances and ICT equipment annually, equivalent to the weight of about 115,000 refrigerators.

The facility has been taking in mainly fridges, washing machines and clothes dryers but is equipped to handle other appliances such as air-conditioners and televisions. It expects to take in more ICT equipment like desktop monitors.

As part of a national drive to encourage people to recycle, a new government e-waste management system was started this month. Under the system, bins are placed islandwide for consumers to drop off their e-waste conveniently. For larger items, such as refrigerators, consumers can dispose of them through various channels like the bulky waste disposal services provided by town councils.

These equipment and large appliances are then taken to recyclers such as EWR2. At EWR2, the e-waste is dismantled and put through various specialised equipment, such as a hard disk drive crusher or cable recycling plant, where cables are fed through a machine that grinds the copper wires down to bits.

Some parts also go through a precious metal recovery plant where chemicals like acids are used to extract precious metals from the e-waste.

The frame of a refrigerator being sent into the large household appliance recycling machine to be crushed. ST PHOTO: ADELINE TAN
Other parts of the refrigerator being set aside to be sold off or recycled. ST PHOTO: ADELINE TAN

EWR2's managing director Jonson Lai said the process is also highly automated, where large machines are being used to do most of the work.

He said: "If you have a manual operation, we need about 10 to 15 people, but here, we only need three to four people to do the job."

Mr Lai said the company will consider ramping up its operations or moving to a bigger space if the e-waste volume sent to it grows sufficiently.

He added that not many recyclers in Singapore are able to handle large household appliances from end-to-end. While there are people like rag-and-bone men who do collect e-waste for recycling, they tend to focus only on certain parts, such as compressors. Similarly, other recycling plants may only process some parts, and the other parts have to be sent to another facility to be processed.

He said: "Presently in Singapore, not many people automate the process or have the equipment to do recycling for e-waste. We chose to specialise in large household appliances because there is a need to do so and there are many tonnes of refrigerators that need to be processed."

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