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World Environment Day: SK hynix’s Waste Management & Recycling Initiatives Pave a Greener Road Ahead

By June 5, 2024 No Comments

Behind the convenience and abundance of today’s products and services lies an ever-growing problem: waste. Globally, more than two billion tons of municipal solid waste are generated each year and this number is projected to reach 2.59 billion tons by 2030. However, these figures still do not account for the vast volumes of industrial waste which is also impacting the environment.

In the semiconductor industry, waste generation is a pressing issue as various materials are disposed of during the production processes and general operations. In response, semiconductor companies are implementing measures to minimize their environmental footprint.

For SK hynix, the company is continually improving the sustainability of its operations through various initiatives in line with its ESG framework PRISM. To mark World Environment Day on June 5, the newsroom takes a closer look at SK hynix’s leading waste management system as the company moves toward establishing a circular economy1.

1Circular economy: An economic model of production and consumption in which final materials are reused and recycled back into the cycle as much as possible.

Advancing Sustainability Through World-Class Waste Management

SK hynix’s waste management practices include a significant focus on recycling. The company recycled around 96% of the total waste it produced in 2022, the most recent year for which data is available, amounting to 565,206 tons of recycled waste2. This represents a marked increase from 2019 when the company recycled 365,562 tons, or approximately 88% of its total waste.

2From the SK hynix Sustainability Report 2023. Figures based on domestic (Icheon, Cheongju) and overseas (Wuxi, Chongqing) recycling rates.

The increase in SK hynix’s recycling rate over the years

The increase in SK hynix’s recycling rate over the years

 

In recognition of its waste management efforts, SK hynix has been awarded several certifications. The company received the platinum Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWTL)3 certification, the highest level available, in 2022 after all of the company’s domestic facilities diverted 100% of waste away from landfills.

Furthermore, SK hynix became the first large company to receive the South Korean Ministry of Environment’s Circulation Resource certification in 2019 for recycling discarded IC trays4. The company has since received the same accreditation for recycling its nonferrous metals, synthetic resin, and electrical and electronic equipment.

3Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWTL): A certification from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that evaluates a company’s actual waste recycling rate and landfill volume based on its level of resource recycling and the final landfill volume of residuals generated during waste disposal. The platinum ZWTL accreditation is awarded to a facility which consistently achieves a landfill waste diversion rate of 100%.
4IC tray: Trays that protect semiconductor products from shock, electric waves, and high temperatures when such products are moved during the production stage of wafers.

Next-Generation Technology for Innovative Waste Management

In the semiconductor industry, the disposal of consumable materials such as wafers and chemical mechanical polishing (CMP)5 pads can also contribute to waste generation. To reduce the amount of wafer waste, SK hynix recycles wafers using its own Wafer Regeneration technology. This technology enables non-pattern wafers, which are generally disposed of due to defects, to be reused as high-quality test wafers by improving the surface quality through the wet strip and CMP processes. These regenerated wafers can be used 100 times more than reclaim wafers, a type of recycled non-pattern wafer previously used by SK hynix. Through this system of reusing and recycling, SK hynix aims to reduce economic costs by 86.2 billion won (USD 63.2 million) and social costs by 37 billion won (USD 27.1 million) by 2025.

5Chemical mechanical polishing (CMP): A process performed to polish and flatten the wafer surface with various chemical and mechanical solutions. It aims to ensure the even stacking of layers as thin films deposited onto the wafer surface may develop bumps and curves during the manufacturing process.

Next-Generation Technology for Innovative Waste Management

The company also made efforts to reduce the disposal of CMP pads. These pads generate substantial amounts of waste as they are the most heavily used consumable CMP material that require frequent replacements. As a solution, SK hynix developed a technology to recycle CMP pads. Using these recycled pads instead of the disposable pads will cut costs, significantly reduce pad waste by several tons annually, and decrease the emission of harmful gases when incinerated.

To continue its strong record in recycling, SK hynix has become the first semiconductor company to establish a roadmap for the active utilization of recycled and renewable materials in production. Through the roadmap, the company aims to raise the proportion of recycled materials used in its products to 25% by 2025 and more than 30% by 2030. To achieve these goals, the company plans to acquire relevant recycling technologies and build the required infrastructure.

Racing Toward a Circular Economy

Through its accredited waste management system, SK hynix is dedicated to achieving resource circulation by optimizing material usage and recycling. The company implements advanced technology to develop innovative recycling methods which can further improve its sustainability. Looking ahead, SK hynix will enhance its waste management and recycling efforts to help establish a global circular economy and realize a greener future.