An Environment Ministry panel on Jan. 30 compiled a proposal for a new recycling system to extract rare, precious and other reusable metals from 96 small home electronic devices, including cellphones and digital cameras.
The subcommittee of the ministry’s Central Environmental Council submitted the proposal to Environment Minister Goshi Hosono on Jan. 31.
The ministry plans to submit a bill on the recycling system to the current ordinary Diet session and introduce the system in April 2014.
Under the new system, municipalities will set up boxes at city halls and stations and take other measures designed specifically to collect small home appliances. The ministry will also seek the cooperation of retailers in the respective areas.
Consumers will not have to pay a recycling fee to drop off these appliances.
Recycling firms approved by the central government will collect and dismantle the used devices. Processing companies will reclaim the metals, which will be sold to parts makers and other manufacturers.
The Environment Ministry is targeting a recovery rate of 20-30 percent of all such metals in small home electronics.
Japan relies heavily on imports for metals used in the production of these devices. But the ministry estimates about 280,000 tons of reusable metals, worth 84.4 billion yen ($1.1 billion), are wasted annually when the appliances are discarded in Japan.
The metals in the discarded devices have been called untapped “mines in cities.”
Seven types of rare metals, including antimony, commonly used in small home electronics, account for about 230 tons of the 280,000 tons, equivalent to about 13.6 billion yen. The ministry said demand for these rare metals in Japan is about 36,000 tons a year, worth 470 billion yen.
The ministry will work out measures to prevent thefts from the boxes and establish proper ways to handle personal data stored in cellphones.
Although municipalities and recycling companies will not be required to implement the system, the ministry will strongly promote the recovery of these metals nationwide. The ministry said it will focus specifically on at least 16 devices containing large amounts of the metals, such as digital cameras and handheld videogame consoles.
The existing law on recycling home electronics requires electronics makers and other firms involved in recycling to reuse materials contained in four items, including air conditioners and TVs. Consumers pay the transportation costs incurred when the items are collected.
In addition to digital cameras and cellphones, small home electronics typically containing reusable metals in substantial amounts include video cameras, digital audio players and electronic dictionaries.
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