Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 16 News List

A kingdom of CDs and how to deal with them

Taiwan is the biggest producer of CDs in the world, so a recycling plan might be a good idea

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sales of compact discs are growing every year, so it's about time they were recyclable.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Walk into Guanghua computer market and you can see all the CDs, CD-Rs and DVD-Rs stacked up on the shelves. Each disc costs just NT$6 to NT$7, so they're not only useful but cheap and everyone seems to be buying them by the dozen.

Taiwan is the biggest producer of compact discs in the world, producing 5.5 billion a year, with 4.7 billion for the export market and 800 million for the local market. In Taiwan, the consumption rate of CDs is growing at a rate of 30 percent a year. This means that next year, the sale of discs will easily reach 1 billion.

Whether it's production or consumption, Taiwan is undoubtedly the kingdom of compact discs, but that can also mean a lot of waste. According to statistics from the Recycling Fund Management Board (回收基金管理會) under the Environmental Protection Administration (環保署, EPA), the amount of discs discarded by households amounted to 990 tonnes in 2002, or about 60 million discs. In addition, defective discs make up about 5 percent of production during the manufacturing process, or nearly 300 million discs out of the 5.5 billion produced each year. The area of Taiwan is 36,000m2 and there are 360 million discarded discs a year.

"I have many old game discs I want to throw away. I wonder if there are any recycling collection places I can go to?" "Are used CDs recyclable?" "If I give them to the guys from the garbage trucks, will they recycle for me?"

Such kind of e-mail or phone inquires to the EPA and to local government are numerous, according to an EPA official who declined to be named. She said information about recycling discarded CDs was the most requested item of information at the EPA. Seven out of 10 e-mail messages to the EPA were about recycling waste CDs, she said.

A CD made of polycarbonate (a kind of plastic), contains heavy metals such as gold, silver, bronze on the data side, and is also covered by ink and gel coatings on the design side. If discs are burned in an incinerator there will be dioxin pollutants as a result. And if the CDs are just buried or put together with other waste, they will take decades to degrade.

The harm that discarded CDs can do to the environment is something the EPA knows only too well.

Polytech Corp (豪塑資源科技) from the Kaohsiung-based Winner Group (穩樂集團) is Taiwan's first company to recycle and process waste CDs. Last July the EPA granted a first license to Polytech to process waste CDs. According to Chuang Lien-hao (莊連豪), president of Polytech, the company can now process about 25 million discs a month, which is about 300 million discs a year. By processing recycled CDs, the company generates NT$200 million a year, Chuang said.

But there have been advances in recycling. In the early 1990s, the Bayer Group in Germany adopted a recycling method using chemical solvents to separate the metal and plastic parts of the discs. This method is widely used in Europe.

According to Chuang, the method used by Polytech is different, using the force of water to sort the different metal parts from the disc, a method that is similar to that used to wash sand from gold. It is therefore a physical method instead of a chemical one, Chuang said. One of the reasons the EPA granted a license to Polytech, he said, was because it avoided the use of solvents that could harm the environment.

According to the EPA, two more recycling companies having applied for licenses to be able to legally process used CDs. But what can be made from recycled discs?

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