Thriv­ing rag-and-bone trade putting en­vi­ron­ment at risk

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ALEXAN­DRA KASSIMI

Mod­ern-day rag-and-bone men in Greece are do­ing great busi­ness given that the num­ber of old ap­pli­ances end­ing up in rub­bish bins re­mains high. This is be­cause when the time comes for Greeks to re­place their elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances they do not take them for re­cy­cling, but in­stead drop them out­side their homes or ask ra­gand-bone men to come and col­lect them. Greek re­cy­cling com­pa­nies es­ti­mate that only 20 per­cent of old, bro­ken or dead ap­pli­ances end up at their fa­cil­i­ties, while 80 per­cent is han­dled by the rag-and-bone trade.

Nev­er­the­less, the lat­ter is a rather dan­ger­ous prac­tice, as a large num­ber of these ap­pli­ances re­lease harm­ful sub­stances such as cad­mium and mer­cury.

The big­gest prob­lem in this case is the fact that most of the old ap­pli­ances picked up by rag-and-bone men do not go through a process of de­con­tam­i­na­tion. This means that liq­uid re­frig­er­ants (from re­frig­er­a­tors), heavy met­als (from tele­vi­sion screens) and liq­uids from car bat­ter­ies end up seep­ing in to the ground.

De­spite the fact that a large num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal author­i­ties work to­gether with elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ance re­cy­cling firms, in prac­tice mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are not par­tic­u­larly or­ga­nized. Mu­nic­i­pal re­cy­cling ser­vices, when avail­able, do not un­der­take the trans­fer of ap­pli­ances from apart­ments to the street – re­spon­si­bil­ity for the move lies with the owner. This proves to be quite dif­fi­cult when it comes to re­ally bulky pieces and is where rag-and-bone traders step in and agree to col­lect the ap­pli­ances. No one re­ally knows ex­actly where these ap­pli­ances end up, or which routes are taken be­fore any valu­able ma­te­ri­als are re­moved. While the most valu­able parts are fridge com­pres­sors, the skele­tons of the ap­pli­ances may end up in a trash can or a scrap col­lec­tor’s yard. Prices for iron, for in­stance, range be­tween 0.80 and 1.5 eu­ros per kilo, while alu­minum ex­ceeds 2 eu­ros per kilo. The most pre­cious me­tal in elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances is cop­per, whose price may reach as high as 3 eu­ros per kilo.

De­spite Greeks’ hes­i­ta­tion when it comes to the re­cy­cling of home ap­pli­ances, in 2014 the coun­try reached the quan­ti­ta­tive tar­get set by the Euro­pean Union with re­gard to re­cy­cling elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances (4 ki­los per res­i­dent per an­num).

“The elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances mar­ket has recorded a drop of about 55 per­cent in sales since 2008 and this has had a knock-on ef­fect on the re­place­ment rate of old ap­pli­ances. Based on this, the fact that we achieved the EU’s quan­ti­ta­tive tar­gets is very en­cour­ag­ing,” said Mar­ios Intzeler, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Ap­pli­ances Re­cy­cling SA, adding that for a num­ber of years now the coun­try has been up to speed in terms of qual­i­ta­tive tar­gets in the field of de­con­tam­i­na­tion and re­cy­cling of the ap­pli­ances’ raw ma­te­ri­als. Nev­er­the­less, the mar­ket in ques­tion was deeply af­fected this year by the im­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal con­trols, given that busi­ness at scrap yards is con­ducted mainly through cash.

“In the first week of July the fig­ures were down by 80 per­cent, with things pick­ing up later. Fig­ures recorded in Au­gust and Septem­ber were slightly lower com­pared to the ones recorded in the same months the pre­vi­ous year,” noted Intzeler. “The sharp rise ob­served in the first se­mes­ter of 2015, how­ever, could bring the whole year closer to last year’s lev­els, in other words, within the set tar­get.”

Most of the old ap­pli­ances picked up by rag-and-bone men do not go through a process of de­con­tam­i­na­tion.

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