Jan Vrba: we are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to recycle electronics

11. 9. 2015

Ten years ago, with the birth of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) recycling and the non-profit organization, stood ASEKOL. Thanks to their innovative approach, Jan Vrba and his team from ASEKOL succeeded in flooding the Czech Republic with red containers and teaching Czech citizens to recycle not only large electronic appliances but also minor ones. “ In August 2015, when the adjusted law regarding take-back and recycling of EEE became valid on the basis of European regulations, Czechs were recycling a little more than 2kg of EEE per person per year. Today it is 5kg of returned obsolete EEE per person per year, which means that we surpass the mandatory European standards by a quarter,” says Jan Vrba, the Chairman of the Board of the non-profit organization ASEKOL. Czech citizens therefore managed to double the volume of recycled appliances per individual within ten years. They belong to the leaders of Central and Eastern Europe and the amount of recycled obsolete EEE is equivalent to that of the western European states.

In 2005, you were directly at the birth of the EEE take-back system. How does it actually work?

Take-back is supported by collective schemes. For example the ASEKOL scheme was founded by significant importers and manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment. Since 2005 they have had a responsibility to ensure and to finance take-back, separate collection and ecological treatment of obsolete equipment from citizens and businesses. Also the assurance of take-back via collective systems is the most effective solution, both from the view of collection network management as well as ecological recycling.

 How is take-back of EEE regulated in the Czech Republic?

Take-back is ensured according to the law regarding waste and regulated by a decree. However, there is an entirely new law in the making regarding end-of-life products. In the future this law should deal with the handling of obsolete products, which have thus far fallen under the take-back regime. Time will only tell, whether the Ministry of the Environment decides to support the manufacturers who have an interest in promoting market conditions within waste management or instead fold under the pressure from waste companies who cannot or will not adjust to new conditions and preserve unhealthy circumstances within waste management for yet another period of time.

What position does ASEKOL have on the Czech market?

In terms of its coverage, quality of provided services and effectiveness of ecological treatment, ASEKOL is a clear number one. ASEKOL has long held its position as an innovator. We are constantly trying to come up with new ideas to inspire motivation in people to recycle more and what is more, is that it is working. In the ten years that we have been operating, people have handed back to ASEKOL almost 140 thousand tons of obsolete electrical and electronic equipment for ecological recycling. You may imagine that this is for example, the weight of 2917 fully loaded lorries or 67 Endeavour space shuttles.

What are the ways you motivate people to recycle more?

Our philosophy is to make recycling as easy as possible for people. If somebody chooses to be environmentally friendly, it should be easy and pleasant for them. Take for example the red containers for end-of-life EEE. We were the first to install them in the whole of Europe. We understand that people do not want to go all the way to a scrap yard because of a calculator, phone or hairdryer and also that they do not wish to accumulate old or broken appliances in their homes until they feel it’s worth going to a scrap yard with a large box of things. Therefore, there are also special collection bins situated next to other colourful containers for sorting plastics, paper and glass, where citizens are used to taking their waste. On your way to work people can take their flattened bottles as well as an old iron and both are easy to dispose of.

What about children?

Yes, what you learn in your youth… We begin our education in kindergartens and primary schools.  But we don’t forget about secondary school students either. Within the Recycling Games project, in which almost 3300 schools took part, we teach children in a fun way about the problems of the environment and the need to recycle. During the school year we announce interesting tasks with an environmental theme and children can take part in various collection events whilst teachers can use the teaching material for their work.

Do you feel that people are accustomed to the red containers? We already have collection bins for paper, glass, plastic, drink cartons, bio waste, electronics – is it not too much?

Our statistics show that red containers have significantly contributed to recycling of minor appliances, which are the most in danger of being thrown in a bin with mixed waste. Whilst in 2009, people handed back roughly 3700 tons of minor EEE, last year it was over 5500 tons and therefore almost 50% more. So it is working.  There are other types of containers that ASEKOL offers to schools, shopping centres, office buildings or even to electronics stores. The unique aspect of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection in the Czech Republic lies in the extent of the collection network, which is unmatched in Europe. Only ASEKOL provides almost 17000 collection points.

Which types of electrical and electronic equipment are actually recycled?

This of course depends on the appliance, as with some the level of recycling hovers around 50% whilst with some others it is much higher. We are able to recycle up to 90% of the materials in mobile phones. Plastic, iron, copper as well as other valuable metals can all be re-used. The most difficult in terms of expense and technology for ecological treatment are televisions and fridges, which are prevalent amongst the handed back equipment.

Will ASEKOL also handle any toxic materials?

Absolutely, our main target is to protect the environment. We uphold the strictest European standards. For example, mobile phones contain toxic lead and arsenic. If a mobile ends up in a landfill, these will go into the soil or even the water. Meanwhile, it is so simple to throw it into a red container for example.

ASEKOL is also very active in the area of social responsibility. Please introduce some of your projects.

We attempt to help out within three different areas.  The first is cooperation with sheltered workshops. I am proud of the fact that ASEKOL is the largest provider of jobs for people with disabilities in terms of the Czech waste management sector. We provide people 150 jobs in seven sheltered workshops. The second way is helping children’s homes, hospitals or asylum centres. We organize nationwide campaigns focused on collecting unused, functional phones and computers called Donate a Mobile and Donate a Computer, which after restoring we give to kids from children’s homes. Finally, the third way is the ASEKOL Fund via which we have been helping municipalities and regions to improve WEEE take-back conditions for seven years. To date, we have supported over 350 projects with a total amount of 19 million crowns.