One does not need to be a regular user of electronic products to know that electronics will not last for life. So, what happens to them after they break down? Sometimes, they are left to waste away without re-use.
Other times, these wastes are recycled. You may ask, what is e-waste recycling? What are the processes involved? What benefits are there? We have got you covered.
In this article, we’ll consider these questions in detail. We’ll also highlight common e-wastes and touch on the challenges caused by e-waste recycling.
So, let’s get right to it.
What Actually is E-waste Recycling?
In addressing this question, we must first consider what e-waste is. So, what is e-waste?
E-waste is short for electronic waste. That is, trash generated from broken, obsolete, and surplus electronic devices. You will also hear people refer to it as e-scraps.
Typically, these electronics often contain toxic chemicals and hazardous materials. And where you do not dispose of these electronics properly, it can cause the release of toxic substances into our environment.
E-waste recycling then refers to the reprocessing and re-use of these electronic wastes. It is simple. It is a process that seeks to recover material from electronic waste. This way, you can use them in new electronic products.
These electronic wastes may be in the form of home appliances like your air conditioners, televisions, electric cookers, air condoners, heater, DVDs, fans, microwaves, and radios. They may also be in the form of information tech equipment like your computers, laptops, mobile phones, batteries, hard disks, circuit boards, monitors.
You should know that e-waste is quite crucial because electronics have a short useful life. As such, they become electronic waste at a swift pace.
E-waste recycling is one of the most talked-about issues in the world today due to its potentials to reduce environmental hazards and pollution. There is also the fact that it can protect our lives as humans and other life forms existing in our world. E-waste recycling is the reuse and reprocessing of electrical and electronic equipment of any type that has been discarded or regarded as obsolete.
Recycling of e-waste is a growing trend and was initiated to protect human and environmental health mainly due to the widespread environmental pollution impacts of e-waste.
Even more, millions of electronics are in use daily. Then, when they reach the tail of their lifespan, they mostly waste away in landfills. Guess what, only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled.
Components of E-waste That Can be Recycled
So, you will agree that e-waste recycling is an activity that you must encourage at any level. If you’re someone who has developed an interest in recycling e-waste, or you’re simply trying to build interest, you might want to ask: what components can we recycle? You have your answer.
Plastic materials may be retrieved and sent for recycling. The recyclers can then use the plastic materials to manufacture items like plastic sleepers and vineyard stakes. You can also get fence posts, plastic trays, insulators, equipment holders, and much more.
Metals can also be retrieved and recycled to manufacture newer steel products and metals.
You can extract glass from CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) of computer monitors and televisions. But there’s a little problem here. CRTS contains several hazardous substances, such as lead. And this is dangerous to both human health and the immediate environment. This makes it difficult to retrieve a glass from CRTs.
However, there are certain steps you may take to ensure safer CRT recycling.
First, separate the CRT from the monitor or television. Then shred the CRT into small pieces. Remove the metals with over-band magnets. This helps you remove ferrous and even non-ferrous objects from that glass.
After this, use washing lines to clear phosphors and oxides from that glass. The last step is called glass sorting. This is where you separate non-leaded from leaded gas. You can then use the extract to make newer screens.
Devices containing mercury may be sent to recycling facilities using specialized technology to eliminate mercury. The end product of this elimination includes metric instruments, dental amalgams, and fluorescent lighting.
There are accredited and specialized companies smelting and recovering resources like tin, gold, silver, copper, palladium, and valuable metals.
When shredded and processed, you can recover aluminum ingots from hard disks. These are particularly useful for automobiles.
Toner and Ink Cartridges
Recyclers in various manufacturing industries that remanufacture them take these toners and ink cartridges for recycling. They then use retrieved plastic and metals as raw materials for other products.
You can take your scrap batteries to specialist recyclers to recover cadmium, steel, nickel, and cobalt for re-use in new batteries. They are also useful for fabricating stainless steel.
Apart from the listed objects, there is an endless list of other objects. But, overall, there’s kind of hack to recycling any item or component. And no, e-waste recycling is not a one size fits all approach. However, there is a general way to go about it.
So, how is e-waste recycled? Let’s get right to it.
Step-by-Step Process of E-waste Recycling
Recycling electronics is an often challenging activity. This is because e-scraps are typically sophisticated and manufactured from diverse elements such as metals, plastics, and glass. While this process often varies, there is a general process.
So, here is what you need to know.
Step 1: Collecting and Transporting
This is the first stage of recycling e-waste. Here, recyclers place take-back booths or collection bins in specific places. When these bins get filled, the recyclers then transport the e-wastes to recycling facilities and plants.
Step 2: Shredding and Sorting
After collecting and transporting, the next step is to shred and sort the e-waste. The success of subsequent separation relies on shredding. And this is why efficiency is essential at this stage.
Shredding involves breaking e-waste into smaller pieces for proper sorting. With the use of hands, these tiny prices get sorted and then manually dismantled. This is typically labor-intensive as waste items are, at this stage, separated to retrieve different parts.
After this, the materials get categorized into core materials and components. Then, these items get sorted into various categories. Typically, these category includes items that you can re-use as they are and those that require further recycling processes.
In any case, e-wastes are often manually sorted, while compounds such as fluorescent light, batteries, UPS batteries, and toner cartridges should not be crushed or shredded by hand.
Step 3: Dust Extraction
The tiny waste particles get smoothly spread via a shaking process on the conveyor belt. The smoothly spread e-waste pieces then get broken down even further. At this point, the dust gets extracted and discarded in an environmentally compliant manner. This way, there is no environmental degradation.
Step 4: Magnetic Separation
After this, a strong overhead magnet helps you separate steel and iron from other wastes. This way, you have successfully recycled the steel from the waste stream.
However, some mechanical processes may sometimes be required to separate circuit board, copper, and aluminum from other wastes particles. And this is especially where they are mostly plastic.
Step 5: Water Separation
After this, water separation tech becomes relevant to separate the glass from the plastic.
You can then send leads that contain glass to smelters to use in the production of batteries, x-ray tubes, and new CRTs.
Step 6: Purification of Waste Stream
The next thing is locating and extracting leftover metals from plastics to purify the waste stream further.
Step 7: Preparing Recycled Materials For Sale
The final stage is preparing recycled materials for sale. Here, the materials separated during SSS get prepared for sale as raw materials to produce new electronics.
Benefits of E-waste Recycling
Now that you know about the stages, you might be wondering what’s in for me. Not to worry, there are several benefits that you can derive from e-waste recycling.
1. E-waste Recycling Helps to Conserve Available Natural Resources
E-waste recycling helps recover valuable materials from electronic products that are either old or no longer used. In turn, this saves and conserves natural resources.
This is because manufacturers can now obtain raw materials from recycled waste. Consequently, there is less need to go to earth for raw materials.
So, yes, there is less need to get copper or lead or metal from mother nature. You will need to remember that these materials are not inexhaustible to realize how much good this represents.
2. It Prioritizes Environmental Protection
As you may have observed from the processes explained above, e-waste recycling prioritizes environmental protection. It seeks to prioritize properly handling, processing and managing hazardous and toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. All substances you may find in your e-waste stream.
As you have read, as one of the sub-steps of e-waste processing, any dust sorted from shredded particles must be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. This way, the hazards that these elements usually pose to our environment get substantially reduced, thanks to e-waste recycling.
3. Creates Jobs
E-waste recycling is creating new jobs for persons such as professional recyclers. What’s more is that, by so doing, it has created a secondary market where recycled materials are the primary commodity.
The Environmental Protection Agency released findings that show the magnitude of economic benefits that comes from e-waste recycling. Guess what. This even beats the results derived at the REI Study earlier in 2016.
In a year, the US’s recycling activities provided 757,000 jobs, $6.7 billion tax revenues, and $36.6 billion as wages.
By implication, for every thousand tons you recycle, there’s 1.57 job created, $ 76,000 wages paid, and $ 14,101 tax revenues. It seems like a lot of benefit coming from trash, right? But there’s more.
For a million laptops you recycle, you will have saved the equivalent of electric power capable of running 3657 households for one year. More, for a million cell phones, you can recover gold weighing 75 pounds, silver of 772 pounds, copper of 35,274 pounds, and palladium of 33 pounds. Amazing, right?
4. Saves Landfills and Reduces Global Warming
Usually, uncollected e-wastes get dumped at incinerators and landfills. By recycling e-waste, we are reducing the amount of e-wastes pilling up at these places.
This is because two-thirds of waste on landfills are biodegradable and capable of breaking down and returning to their natural elements. As these wastes break down and decompose, they produce harmful gases (Methane and CO2) – greenhouse gases – which heavily contribute to global warming.
Since landfills also pollute the water and soil in our local environment, activities like e-waste recycling, which seek to reduce these environmental concerns are not merely beneficial, but also life-saving.
E-waste recycling is a serious global concern for a lot of reasons. It has a strong bearing on our immediate environment as humans and life on earth generally. It even promises significant economic returns for persons, communities, and even nations.
Many people have begun to tap from the floodgate of opportunities provided by e-waste recycling. In developing nations, entrepreneurs are taking advantage of e-recycling as a steady revenue stream and advancing environmental goals.
Although the steps involved might be labor-intensive, they are easy to follow. From collecting and separating to preparation for sale, there are several steps involved which you can easily flow with. And of course, you too can directly benefit from e-waste recycling and also help to save our planet.