For most people, electronics are part of their modern lives with cell phones, laptops, TVs and a growing number of gadgets. There is barely a corner of human activity that electronics have failed to penetrate, not only in the developed world but also increasingly in the many other parts of our planet where people aspire to ever-improving lifestyles. Every year they buy new, updated equipment, the demand for over 300 million computers and one billion cell phones to be produced every year.
The reuse, repair, refurbishment and eventually recycling of electrical and electronic equipment are not a new activities. Repairing electrical and electronic equipment were common activities for small businesses through most of the 20th century, though in the 1990ies and onwards manufacturers built in obsolescence, and the number of repair shops and the repairability of goods dropped. However, the public desire for longer-lasting quality products is leading a trend back to refurbishment and repair and as a result a better use of resources.
Whilst cookers, refrigerators, freezers and air-conditioning units can last many years, consumer electronics become obsolete or unwanted, often within 2-3 years of purchase. This global mountain of e-waste is expected to continue growing at some 8% per year.
Recyclers have always found value in the metals contained in electrical and electronic equipment. Over the last thirty years, non-metal elements such as the glass in cathode ray tubes from computers and televisions and certain plastics made recycling less economic. However, as product designers, under legislative and marketing pressures, design for the environment and design for recycling, recyclers are finding more economic possibilities in the plastic casings and in the flat screens of consumer electronics.
An increasing number of recycling companies have been entering the E-scrap business, and the number is still likely to grow. BIR’s E-Scrap Committee reflects this trend by dedicating a forum to these companies in order to provide room for open debate and exchange on legislation, trade and regulatory matters affecting the recycling of electrical and electronic scrap. By bringing together experts in the field, the aim must be to ensure: that the realities of E-scrap are uncovered and highlighted; and that accurate messages are disseminated to policy-makers and the wider world.
Depollution: Before material recycling, certain countries require best practice depollution of scrap electrical and electronic equipment in order to remove hazardous components or materials to enable their environmentally sound management and so that they do not contaminate subsequent recycling processes or recycled materials.
Sorting: Commonly scrap electrical and electronic equipment is hand sorted and dismantled in order to separate out materials and components for reuse, repair or for material recovery. The aim is to obtain the most value from the equipment as a whole, or from its components, or from its materials.
Shredding: After required pre-treatment, large electrical appliances such as cookers and washing machines are commonly shredded in large hammer-mills together with other metal scrap and pre-treated end-of-life vehicles. After the required pre-treatment, small electrical goods may be shredded in smaller dedicated shredders using a variety of shredding methods. Depending on national laws, pre-treated refrigerators, freezers and cooling equipment may be shredded in dedicated enclosed shredders in order to capture gasses used in their manufacture and use.
Recyclers aim to find a secondary raw materials market for plastics, glass from inside refrigerators and other non-metallic materials separated from scrap electrical and electronic equipment.
Media separation: Further separation is achieved by using eddy-current separators, or high-pressure air flows or floatation systems using different density liquids. Other processes may be necessary to separate materials one from another, recycling them separately.
Melting: The recovered metals are melted in a furnace. The melting, refining and alloying process is determined by the standardised composition necessary for the future applications of the metal alloys. The molten metal is then poured into moulds or cast into shapes. Later on, they can be rolled into flat sheets that are used to manufacture new products.
- The electronics recycling industry in the USA alone is worth more than US$ 20bn and processes over 4m tonnes each year, providing direct and indirect employment for 45,000-plus people.
- Recycling copper uses much less energy, about 10 million Btu/tonne, than the energy required to extract copper from copper ore at about 95 million Btu/tonne. Recycling copper saves up to 85% of the energy used in primary production, and so by using copper scrap, we reduce CO2 emissions by 65%
- Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1,100 kilograms of iron ore, 630 kilograms of coal, and 55 kilograms of limestone.
- One tonne of recycled aluminium saves up to 8,000 kilograms of bauxite, 14,000 kWh of energy, 40 barrels (6300 litres) of oil, 238 million Btu's of energy. Recycling 1 tonne of aluminium avoids the emission of about 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions as recycling aluminium uses 95% less energy than producing aluminium using raw materials.
- Recycling one tonne of tin saves 99% of the energy required for the primary production of tin.
E-Scrap Committee members:
|Chairman||Thomas Papageorgiou (Greece)|
|Members||Fares Al Mutairi (Saudi Arabia), Surendra Patawari Borad (Belgium), Robin K. Wiener (USA), Steve Wong (China)|
|BIR Trade & Environment Director||Ross Bartley (Belgium)|