Electronics waste, generally known as e-scrap and e-waste, is the rubbish caused by surplus, broken and obsolete electronic parts. Waste electronics are directly polluting eco-life system around the world. To fix this problem, e-waste will be re-generated from old industrial devices or electronic components into new products.
A huge number of E-waste and its dangers
We are accumulating e-waste at an alarming rate. According to a tech research company, Gartner, in 2015, there were approximately 1.9 billion cell phones were sold worldwide. However, it is estimated that there were 422 million unused and unneeded mobile phones accelerating by the end of 2015, since American replace their mobile phone averagely every 18 months.
For other electronic devices such as desktop computer or portable music players, they are replaced around every 2 to 3 years. Others reach their end-of-life period from 4 to maximum 10 years. Annually, the electronic waste approaches to more than 20 million tons that are generated annually. Calculated solely in the US, Americans waste an amount of 3.4 million tons of old electronic devices and components every year.
In fact, most of these electronic and industrial devices simply take up space in landfills, and just around 10 to 40% of those waste is recovered back to new electronic entities. The rest percentage of non-recycling e-waste such as computers, cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices can be the main reason to cause huge problems to the surrounded environment. The toxic material like lead, mercury, and cadmium inside them leach out into the soil and water. For example, CRTs, which even though disappeared after the existence of the flat-panel screen, consists of a certain amount of lead. LCD screen, whereas, contains mercury.
In addition, several other toxic chemicals in e-waste, including arsenic and PCBs, also pose a threat to the environment and human health. Furthermore, as rare-earth metal materials in cell phones are removed rather than re-used, new raw materials must be mined for manufacturing purpose of new products. In several nations, the mining of rare-earth materials is over-exploited causing the lower environmental standards in those areas. Therefore, in general, e-waste disposal relates to environmental issues.
Benefits of E-waste recycling
Recycling e-waste plays a crucial role in improving both environmental and economic issues:
- According to EPA, recycling one million laptops can save the energy to operate 3,657 household devices for a year in the US. Moreover, recycling one million mobile phones can recover 75 lbs of gold, 772 lbs of silver, 35,274 lbs of copper, and 33 lbs of palladium.
- According to the Electronic Take Back Coalition, an amount of 1.5 tons of water, 530 lbs of fossil fuel and 40 lbs of chemical brings into the use of manufacturing a single computer and monitor.
- According to the Minerals Education Coalition, about 140 million cell phones are discarded every year, which include approximately 2,100 metric tons of copper and 3.9 metric tons of gold.
- According to Apple’s annual environmental report, this company stated that there are 2,204 pounds of gold recovered from recycled iPhones, iPads, Macs in 2015. Besides gold, the company also collected 23 million pounds of steel, 13 million pounds of plastics, 12 million pounds of glass, 4.5 million pounds of aluminum, 3 million pounds of copper, and 6,600 pounds of silver. In other words, if all electronic industrial devices manufacturers recycle their old devices, they can take advantage of a huge benefit from it.
Generally, recycling e-waste empowers us to restore the variety of valuable metals and materials from old electronics, save our energy both natural and artificial resources, reduce soil and water pollution, preserve landfill space.
The e-waste recycling process
A general process to recycle electronic waste can be challenging; however, there are three main steps to bring old electronic devices back to the market, which is following:
- Collection and Transportation: This is the initial stage of the recycling process which concentrates on collecting the e-waste from landfill space or electronic manufacturer and delivering those waste to the recycling plants.
- Shredding, Sorting, and Separation: After collection and transportation process, materials in the e-waste must be divided into 2 groups, which are re-used and non-reused commodities for re-generate new products.
This is the foundation step of electronic recycling. Afterward, e-waste will be shredded to classify and separate the plastics from metals and internal circuitry. After this step, e-waste items are stocked into flat pieces as small as 100mm to prepare for further classification.
Iron and steel are split from the waste by using a powerful magnet system on the conveyor for different purposes. The separated steel materials are prepared with the intention of sale as recycled steel on the market. With the further mechanical process, aluminum, copper and circuit boards are set apart from the material stream for sale purpose.
Afterward, glass is taken from plastics through water separation technology process with a tremendous visual and hand inspection to ensure the quality of extracted materials. The final step in this separation process is to detect and extract any existing metal fragments from the plastics for further purifying the stream.
- Preparation for Sale: After the Shredding, Sorting and Separation stage, the separated materials are ready for sale as usable raw materials for manufacturing of new products.
Ideas you can do with your old electronic components and devices
When the electronic devices approach their end-of-life period, there is a various way that you can treat your old electronic devices. However, dismissing it and transferring it to the landfill space is the worst choice that you can make up your mind of. There are several methods that you can restore or reuse your old electronic devices.
- Take it to the Tech firm: Many electronic manufacturers and retailers offer recycling programs. You can bring your old electronic parts to those firms and your old devices will proceed to the recycling process.
- Donate it: The best gesture to dispose of your old stuff is to donate it to non-profit or charity organization. They would be happy to take that old stuff, which including furniture, clothes, and especially electronic inventory, over from you.
- Sell your old devices: In case you have no intention to donate your old devices to non-profit organizations, you can come up with the idea to sell it to other people. It might be old to you but new to others, plus you can earn a little amount of money from it.
- Create artwork out of your electronic junks: You can recycle your old electronic devices into creative artwork by using different electronic parts like computer, mobile phones or electronic components. You can generate furniture or portraits from electronic junk, which offer eco-friendly products for our life.
All the data were extracted from the following websites:
- CNN Tech, Apple recovered 2.204 pounds of gold from broken iPhones last year, http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/15/technology/apple-gold-recycling/
- IFIXITORG, E-waste is the toxic legacy of our digital Age, https://ifixit.org/ewaste
- Techwalla, What materials are used to make cell phones, https://www.techwalla.com/articles/what-materials-are-used-to-make-cell-phones
- The balance, Introduction to Electronics (e-waste) recycling, https://www.thebalance.com/introduction-to-electronics-e-waste-recycling-4049386
- TrendHunter Eco, e-Waste Art, Designers creating artwork out of electronic junk, https://www.trendhunter.com/protrends/e-artisans