Sorting WEEE and recovering valuable materials


Slowly but surely, our earth’s precious natural resources are being depleted. So why not recover as many valuable materials from discarded products as we can? Known as urban mining, this approach has countless advantages: it helps create new jobs; it is environmentally responsible, cost-efficient and a hedge against fluctuating prices for natural resources; it alleviates pressure on vulnerable miners and ecosystems; and it reduces inflows of money into conflict zones.

Everywhere in the world, including here in Belgium, all kinds of discarded equipment is waiting for repurposing. Research by Recupel revealed that no fewer than 51 million electronic products languish unused in Belgian homes, sheds and garages. Known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), these items contain hard plastics and ferrous and non-ferrous metals, but also silver, gold and palladium. Optimum recovery of these materials from WEEE can contribute to the shift from a throw-away mindset to a circular economy.

In collaboration with the sheltered work organisation Westlandia, in Ypres, Vanheede set up a service for the sorting and recycling of electrical and electronic waste such as computers and servers, printers, mobile phones and heaters.

A win-win partnership

Westlandia is gaining new expertise in circular economics, while at the same time providing work for people with special employment needs. And Vanheede’s options for repurposing these valuable materials are increasing thanks to optimum separation and sorting.

Vanheede has also worked with other organisations for sheltered work: Manus (Antwerp), Bewel (Genk) and Mariasteen (Hooglede) have all helped with the dismantling of various products. Other projects with Westlandia have involved unpacking expired medications, dismantling KeyKegs (reusable beer kegs used for festivals), and now sorting WEEE.

"We learn more about the materials every day. We are always looking for ways to repurpose the materials that come in, rather than simply discarding them."

Kurt Van Brabandt, Business Unit Manager Special Waste