Inappropriate e-waste management is a big threat for the whole world and especially developing countries, where most of e-waste ends up.
Undoubtedly, recycling is the most efficient way to manage e-waste. This happens because of the content of e-waste which is very valuable.
But first, let’s try to understand what is e-waste and how it can be appropriately managed.
What is e-waste?
E-Waste can be defined as any electric and electronic device or equipment at the end of its life.
However, e-waste can be also considered the equipment that has become unwanted or obsolete.
Common e-waste includes:
- Home appliances, i.e. televisions, DVDs, radios, refrigerators, cookers, air-conditions, microwave ovens, etc.
- Information technology equipment, i.e. computers, laptops, hard disks, cameras, mobile phones, etc.
- Common electrical equipment such as light bulbs, etc.
Modern lifestyle and technological evolution have turned e-waste into the fastest growing waste stream. Global e-waste generation is estimated between twenty and fifty million tons per year (20-50 Mtons/year).
Therefore, the need for appropriate e-waste management is more demanding than ever before.
E-Waste management and recycling
Recycling is undoubtedly the most efficient way to manage e-waste.
Apart from plastic, e-waste consists of precious metals, including: gold, platinum and silver, as well as less precious metals such as copper, iron and aluminum, making e-waste recycling a very prosperous activity.
Informal management of e-waste, can pose serious threats to human health and the environment. This happens because of the practices used during informal recycling, which include among others:
- manual dismantling with no use of protective equipment;
- open burning of e-waste to recover the precious metals;
- open pit acid leaching to separate valuable metals.
E-waste is also responsible for 70% of the toxic substances found in landfills. This is actually the consequence of recycling only 20% of total e-waste generated.
In that way, appropriate e-waste management and especially e-waste recycling protects the environment and human health by:
- avoiding emissions to the atmosphere, ground and water from the disposal of hazardous materials and substances;
- recovering valuable metals that can be reused;
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products.
E-waste recycling process in steps
Despite the development of patents or of customized systems, e-waste recycling process can be summarized in the following steps:
Step #1 – Manual sorting
E-waste is sorted by hand at its arrival at the recycling facility. At this step batteries and cables of copper are removed for quality check. In addition, toners are removed from printers.
Step #2 – Manual dismantling
E-waste is manually dismantled. Aim of dismantling is to retrieve all the parts that compose e-waste. Then dismantled parts are categorized into core materials and components.
Further categorization includes separation of items that can be reused or should be recycled through the recycling process.
Step #3 – Size reduction process
This step consists of two phases; the primary and the secondary size reduction processes.
- Phase #1
During primary size reduction, all materials that cannot be further dismantled are shredded to pieces between four and ten inches. This process is the preparatory step for further categorization of shredded materials.
- Phase #2
Right before secondary size reduction, shredded e-waste is spread on a conveyor belt using and automated shaking process. The size of materials is further reduced to less than two inches. Any dust generated during this process is discarded in an appropriate and environmentally friendly way.
Step #4 – Overband magnet
Following size reduction, magnets remove all ferrous metals such as steel and iron.
Step #5 – Separation of metallic and nonmetallic materials
During this step metals such as copper, aluminum and brass are separated from the nonmetallic content. Recovered metal can either be reused or sold as raw materials.
Step #6 – Water separation
It is the last step of e-waste recycling process. After metal recovery, the remaining fraction consists of plastic and glass. Taking advantage of the difference in density, water is used to separate plastic from glass.
Having completed the e-waste recycling process all recovered materials such as metals (ferrous, nonferrous and valuable), plastic and glass can be sold as raw materials.
Do you want to ensure appropriate management of your e-waste? Use our recycling center locator to find your closest e-waste recycling center.