South Korea Expands E-Waste Recycling, Recovery Requirements to Large Retailers

SEOUL--South Korea, one of the world's biggest electronics exporting and consuming countries, will broaden requirements for electronic waste recovery and recycling to large retailers under a revised law starting in January 2012, Ministry of Environment officials said April 18.

The latest amendment (Law No. 10549) of the Act on Resource Recycling of Electrical and Electronic Products and Automobiles will bring electronics retailers into the existing resource recycling regime, said Ryu Yon-ki, director at the ministry's Resource Recycling Division.

Currently, only manufacturers and importers are covered by the law, which has been in force since January 2008, to meet “extended producer requirement (EPR)” quotas for e-waste take-back.

These recycling quotas are set for 10 types of consumer electronics, including home appliances, mobile phones, and personal computers and printers. For instance, the mandatory recycling quotas for televisions and handsets were 19 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively, in 2010. Surcharges are imposed for unmet portions of EPR quotas.

Mainstream consumer electronics sales channels are shifting from producers and importers to large retailers in South Korea, while 95 percent of all cell phones are sold through telecommunications carriers rather than manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. Nevertheless, the take-back ratio of e-waste at retailers is very low, compared to producers, the ministry said.

Per-Capita Recycling Lags.

According to the ministry's per-capita estimates, 11.5 kilograms (25.4 pounds) of e-waste were generated for every South Korean in 2010, while 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds), or 21.7 percent, were recycled. By comparison, the European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive enforces a collection target of 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) per person.

Before the amendment takes effect Jan. 4, 2012, the ministry will work out formulas to assign different e-waste recycling quotas to different types of retailers. For cell phone network operators, recycling quotas will be adjusted for sizable amounts of used phones that are exported to other countries.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy announced April 15 the launch of the Korea Urban Mining Association as an industry partner to the government's effort to increase the collection and recycling of precious elements and rare-earth metals deposited in e-waste, scrapped automobiles, and workplace waste.

About 40 companies will participate in the urban mining team effort, including LS-Nikko Copper Inc., a Korean-Japanese smelting company, and Korea Zinc Co., the word's biggest producer of refined zinc.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy estimates that roughly $4 billion worth of valuable metals are generated annually in South Korea as part of electronic, automotive, and workplace waste.

By James Lim

Full text of the amendment of the Act on Resource Recycling of Electrical and Electronic Products and Automobiles is available, in Korean, at