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 systems around the world. E-waste will be re-generated from old industrial devices or electronic components into new products.
A massive 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 sold worldwide. However, about 422 million unused and unneeded mobile phones accelerated by the end of 2015, since Americans replace their mobile phones on average every 18 months.
People usually replace electronic devices such as desktop computers or portable music players every 2 to 3 years. Others reach their end-of-life period from 4 to a maximum of 10 years. Annually, electronic waste approaches more than 20 million tons. Calculated solely in the US, Americans waste an amount of 3.4 million tons of old electronic devices and components every year.
Most of these electronic and industrial devices take up space in landfills, and just around 10 to 40% of those waste is recycled back to new electronic entities. The rest of the non-recycling e-waste such as computers, cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices can be the main reason to cause considerable 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 disappeared after the flat-panel screen, consists of a certain amount of lead. LCD screen, whereas, contains mercury.
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 reused, new raw materials must be mined to manufacture new products. In several nations, the mining of rare-earth materials is over-exploited, causing 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 Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an amount of 1.5 tons of water, 530 lbs of fossil fuel, and 40 lbs of chemical bring 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, including 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 considerable benefit from it.
Generally, recycling e-waste empowers us to restore the variety of valuable metals and materials from old electronics, save our energy, natural and artificial resources, reduce soil and water pollution, and 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 collects the e-waste from landfill space or electronic manufacturer and delivers those waste to the recycling plants.
- Shredding, Sorting, and Separation: After the collection and transportation process, materials in the e-waste must be divided into 2 groups: reused 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 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 other mechanical process, aluminum, copper, and circuit boards are set apart from the material stream for sale purposes.
Afterward, glass is taken from plastics through the 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 remove 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 to manufacture 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 to make up your mind. There are several methods that you can restore or reuse your old electronic devices.
- Please 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 a non-profit or charity organization. They would be happy to take that old stuff, including furniture, clothes, and especially electronic inventory, over from you.
- Sell your old devices: If you have no intention to donate your old devices to non-profit organizations, you can come up with the idea to sell them 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 from your electronic junks: You can recycle your old electronic devices into creative artwork using different electronic parts like computers, mobile phones, or electronic components. You can generate furniture or portraits from electronic junk, which offer eco-friendly products for our life.
The mentioned data was 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