Any electronic appliance past its functional stage that must be discarded is known as e-waste. Every year more than 50 million tons of e-waste, comprising different batteries and electronic equipment, are discarded into our environment. Although e-waste makes up less than 3% of annual global waste, it poses a more significant threat to our health and environment than all other waste put together. It is because e-waste begins to corrode once discarded due to exposure to UV rays and other physical/chemical reasons. Corroded e-waste releases toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, and beryllium into the surroundings contaminating the soil, air, and water nearby.
The growing consumer electronics market indicates a rise in the amount of e-waste humans will discard in the coming years. Hazardous materials like lead, nickel, and mercury make e-waste a risk to human health and the environment. One of the potential answers to the safe disposal of e-waste lies in recycling.
Manufacturing electronic goods require resources like metals, plastics, and glass – most can be recovered through recycling. Appliances such as computers and cell phones need precious metals such as silver, gold, palladium, and copper. Recycling e-waste can recover these resources using only a fraction of the energy and cost needed to mine new metals.
What is E-Waste?
Any electronic good not fit for use and needs to be discarded qualifies as e-waste. It includes laptops, mobile phones, copiers, headphones, connecting cables, memory banks, kitchen appliances, and other consumer electronic appliances. Some e-waste is powered by batteries, while others are run with electricity. A complex mix of valuable elements like gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, lithium, cobalt, and others can be reclaimed in e-waste. These elements can then be reused to produce more electronic goods.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once commented, “One metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the United States.” In 2016, the value of recoverable materials in global e-waste was estimated at $64.6 billion, but only 20% was recycled correctly. The rest was dumped into landfills where it caused numerous dangerous substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, polluting PVC plastic, and hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants, to enter the environment.
What Are the Types of E-Waste?
You can’t ignore the fact that there is a lot of waste worldwide, and the amount is unstoppable. But if you see the amount of waste that has increased the most, it is electronic waste. For garbage like this, it is usually divided into these seven types:
ICT and Telecommunications Equipment
CPUs, displays, monitors, mouse, printers, keyboards, networking hardware, laptops, audio amplifiers, CDs, DVDs, and video cameras are among the items categorized as ICT. And because it is the simplest to obtain, this number is arguably the highest in the modern period.
The amount of trash in the globe and office use both appear to be issue. Calculators, photocopying devices, electronic, typewriters, telephones, fax machines, and facsimiles are all considered office electronics if they are still in use.
Large Household Appliances
Let’s check out the large electronic equipment in your home first. You might mention commonplace equipment like refrigerators, stoves, air conditioners, radiators, fans, and many others. Moreover, it is categorized as large-scale electronic trash.
Small Household Appliances
Try to see little items being included in technological equipment as well if it was a large item. They include appliances like swing weavers, fryers, and hair dryers, among many more. And this includes a lot as well.
Consumer Electronic Equipment
The area for electronic waste will also comprise items intended for consumer usage. Any sort of action that is necessary to service consumers fall under this category. This category includes a lot of activities.
And many people are still unaware that this trash is related to medical issues. The total amount of garbage can be determined by adding these up. Hence, actions involving damage, treatment, prevention, and detection all include electronic devices.
Toys Leisure and Sports Equipment
Of course, some toys or activities are no longer used when children become older. And some of those things must be related to electronics. The toy is also considered e-waste if it only has one electrical component, such as a battery.
What Are the Components of E-Waste that Can be Recycled?
As people continue to buy more electronic equipment, manufacturers are beginning to face shortages of raw materials. Reclaiming and reusing materials from e-waste make economic and environmental sense. Recycling materials from e-waste is also referred to as urban mining. Here is a look at the different components of e-waste that can be recycled:
Plastic can be recovered from discarded electronic goods to reuse in other manufacturing products. Recovered plastic can make sleepers, vineyard stakes, fence posts, plastic trays, insulators, equipment holders, etc.
All metals used in electronic goods can be retrieved and recycled to manufacture newer steel and metal products.
Cathode ray tubes in televisions and computer monitors are made of glass. Therefore, it is a source of extracting glass from e-waste. However, it must be noted that CRTs also contain hazardous substances such as lead. The extraction process needs to be carefully designed to prevent lead from CRTs from harming human health and the environment.
Reclaimed mercury is helpful for manufacturing metric instruments, dental amalgams, and fluorescent lighting. Recycling facilities use special equipment to eliminate mercury from e-waste.
Various accredited and specialized companies are smelting and recovering numerous valuable elements like tin, silver, copper, and gold from circuit boards.
Memory banks or hard disks that store data can be shredded and processed to recover aluminium ingots. These aluminium ingots are useful for automobile manufacturing.
Toner and Ink Cartridges
Manufacturing companies that make toners and ink cartridges recycle old cartridges to use plastic as raw materials. The plastic reclaimed from toners and ink cartridges can also be used in other manufacturing industries.
Old batteries can be recycled by specialists. They can extract essential elements like cadmium, steel, nickel, and cobalt for reuse in making new batteries. These materials are also used in fabricating stainless steel.
Why is Electronics Waste Recycling Important?
Video By Total Green Recycling
An essential advantage of recycling electronic waste is keeping materials in circulation, preventing corrosion and making them available to manufacturers. As mentioned before, when e-waste corrodes, it causes hazardous elements to enter the environment. Sustainable waste management can offset the negative impact of e-waste and offer cost benefits to manufacturers worldwide.
How to Recycle E-Waste?
Recycling e-waste is a challenging endeavour. E-scraps are sophisticated and comprise many different elements. The process often varies depending on the recycled appliance or the substance being mined from e-waste. However, the general process is as follows:
Collection & Storage
Recyclers place booths or bins for collecting e-waste; when the bins are filled, the e-waste is transported to the recycling facilities and plants. Ideally, the collection and categorization of e-waste should be done simultaneously. Storage of e-waste requires adequate security especially if the appliance has hazardous substances. If you are collecting e-waste with batteries, it requires extra care.
Sorting, Dismantling & Shredding
The next stage is manual sorting and elimination. Many appliances are manually disassembled for reuse or material recovery. And finally, the materials are shredded for better sorting through mechanical separation.
Magnetic separation helps separate metals from plastic and other materials. The process uses a giant magnet or an eddy current that pulls ferrous metals like iron and steel out of the mix. These metals are then sent to dedicated recycling plants for smelting. Magnetic separation is effective for separating metal-embedded plastic and circuit boards also.
The next stage is water separation after the metal is separated from the rest of the materials. Water helps separate the plastic from the glass and purifies the plastic for segregating different polymers. It is also possible to hand-sort visible purities and contaminants at this stage.
At this stage, the reclaimed materials are ready for reuse. The next step for materials like plastic and steel is to transfer them to a different recycling stream. Others are processed onsite and sold alongside useable components sorted earlier.
E-Waste Recycling Process Challenges
Recycling e-waste is easier said than done. The pace of recycling and e-waste management is much slower than the consumption of electronic goods. Besides, there are several challenges in the recycling process:
- Hazardous elements and chemicals create problems in the recycling process. For example, Cathode Ray Tubes that contain lead can harm human health. Materials containing hazardous waste should be carefully disassembled.
- Electronic goods are often made of mixed materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Separating these materials is costly, complex, and time-consuming.
- Municipalities and recycling facilities may not accept all kinds of electronic goods. They may refuse large items like refrigerators and microwaves.
How to Setup an E-waste Recycling Business?
Determine How You Will Set up Your Business
This is the first and the most important step, as you will need to ensure that you are fully informed on the different types of businesses that you can establish. It is also at this point that you get to decide whether you want to co-own the business through a partnership, run it independently or operate through a limited liability company (LLC). It is only then that you can obtain a license.
Separation of the Useful E-Waste from the Useless
You will need to come up with a process through which you will be separating the useless waste from useful waste which can be refurbished into useful products. Most importantly, you also get to decide where your useful waste shall be taken. For this reason, you may want to start out with something that you can easily commit to with the resources that are available at your disposal before thinking of expanding. Based on your strengths, you can then expand your list of recyclables in the near future.
Get Proper Licenses
Getting a proper certification cannot be substituted. Thus, ensure that you have complied with the different rules and regulations pertaining to the state where your business is located to ensure that you are not violating any laws. Besides, certificates are also important when it comes to selling or buying CRV-labeled containers.
Get the Resources
You need to know where you will source the resources to get you started whether you want to purchase or lease the equipment that you require. Remember proper recycling requires the right machines that will get the job done in a timely and efficient manner. Recycling equipment ranges from huge bins and scales to trucks and office equipment. Most importantly, you need to ensure that your weighing scales are certified and inspected on a regular basis.
Identify an Ideal Location for Your Recycling Business
When identifying a location, you need to take into account a number of factors that include access by people when it comes to dropping off materials that are recyclable as well as picking them up regularly before taking them to the recycling facility. You may want to opt for a small stall or a warehouse depending on various factors.
Look Out for Competitors
You need to find out if there are other businesses doing the same thing within the area you have identified. You may then go further and learn about their recycling techniques and compare them to what you will be doing. If recycling services are limited in that particular area, then you can be sure of a wider profit margin.
This is a crucial step as you need to create awareness among potential clients about your service offerings. One way of advertising is through the creation of a website. You may also print flyers and handouts for distribution or post ads in newspapers.
Ultimately, electronic waste recycling is an area that eco-entrepreneurs can explore in the quest to promote a green environment and generate income. All you need to do is ensure that you have met all the requirements so that you are not violating any legislation that might attract a huge penalty.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Happens if E-waste Is Not Recycled?
If e-waste is not recycled, it can release toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium into their surrounding environment. These materials can contaminate the soil, water, and air, severely impacting human health. Additionally, if e-waste is not managed efficiently, new natural resources must be mined to manufacture more consumer electronics. It depletes natural resources, especially precious metals like gold, silver, palladium, and platinum.
What Can E-waste Recycling Be Turned Into?
E-waste recycling is an essential sustainability tool critical for humanity’s survival. Here are some examples of using recycled e-waste:
- Hover Mowers – Recycling a hover mower yields a significant amount of strong ABS plastic. ABS plastic can make musical instruments, cases, pipe fittings, and car bumpers. The copper motor can be used to make winding wire for motors in new electronic products.
- Gaming Consoles – Gaming consoles contain steel that is good for computer casings, car parts, and beams. Circuit boards also contain precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium.
- Mobile Phones – Mobile phones also contain many precious metals. Zinc from mobile phones can galvanize steel, mix with copper to make brass, and can be used to stop rust from forming on ships.
Is ‘E-waste’ Considered Hazardous?
Some components of e-waste are considered hazardous, although it depends on the appliance’s condition and the density of hazardous elements in the appliance. In some parts of the USA, cathode ray tubes from old televisions and computer monitors are considered hazardous due to their lead.
E-waste recycling is a global concern that needs to be addressed urgently. In many ways, our world has begun to recognize the impact of e-waste, and many governments have begun taking steps to recycle e-waste effectively. Separating waste at source and educating common people about the benefits of recycling will go a long way. It is not just critical for the environment to protect life on Earth, but also to conserve natural resources on earth. Not to forget, sustainable e-waste management promises significant economic returns for the manufacturing industry.
Compactor Management Company (former Northern California Compactors, Inc.) offers installation and support services for waste recycling equipment such as waste compactors, balers, shredders & conveyor systems. Established in 1981, it offers waste management solutions across the United States.