What is Electronic Recycling? How is it Done?

Electronic waste or e-waste, also known as e-scrap, is the trash we generate from broken, surplus, and obsolete electronic devices. Electronics contain several hazardous and toxic materials and chemicals that are released into the environment if they are not disposed properly. It takes between 50-200 years to decompose based on their quality. Sturdier metals take longer to decompose just like hard plastic, which does not decompose at all. Even glass takes 1-2 million years to exit our ecosystem and decompose.

However, most things are recyclable, even e-waste. And the process of recovering material from discarded devices to use in new products is known as e-waste recycling.

Frequently Replaced Electronics

Electronics transition into e-waste at a fast pace, because they have a very short useful life span. Currently, close to 500 million unused cell phones are present in the houses of people. Globally, 25% of the population purchases a new cell phone every year, and they buy millions of electronic devices like TVs, laptops, computers, and tablets each year.

Unfortunately, most of these devices end up in landfills and only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled. Electronic are full of valuable commodities useful to the metal trade like tin, copper, iron, fossil fuels, gold, silver, titanium, and aluminium. Many of the materials utilised in making the electronic devices can be recovered, recycled, and reused including plastics, glass, and metals. After knowing how long does it take for metal to decompose, it is better to recover the metals and reuse them.

Benefits of E-Waste Recycling

Recycling e-waste lets us recover several valuable metals and other materials from electronics, which saves energy or natural resources, conserves landfill space, reduces pollution, and creates new jobs. Recycling one million mobile phone can recover approximately 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, 33 pounds of palladium, and 35, 274 pounds of copper.

E-waste recycling also helps in decreasing the production waste. Manufacturing a single monitor and computer takes 530 lb of fossil fuel, 1.5 tons of water, and 40 pounds of chemicals. Additionally, 81% of the energy linked to a computer is utilised during production only.

The Electronics Recycling Process

E-waste recycling can be tricky because discarded electronics are sophisticated devices manufactured from different ratios of metals, glass, and plastics. The process of recycling can be different depending on the materials being recycled as well as the technologies used, but below is a general overview.

Collection and Transportation

Just like any other recycling process, collection and transportation are the initial stages of e-waste recycling. Recyclers place electronics take-back booths or collection bins in particular locations and transport the e-waste collected from these sites to recycling facilities and plants.

Shredding, Sorting, and Separation

The next step is to process and separate the materials in the e-waste stream into clean commodities that may be used for making new products. The foundation of electronics recycling is an efficient separation of materials.

Shredding the e-waste lets the sorting and separation of metals and internal circuitry from plastics, and waste products are shredded into tiny pieces as small as 10 mm to facilitate further sorting. A powerful overhead magnet then separates steel and iron from the waste stream on a conveyor belt and then prepared the steel for sale as recycled steel.

Further mechanical processing sorts our aluminium, circuit boards, and copper from the material stream, which is not mostly plastic. The water separation technique is then used to filter glass from plastics. The final step in the process of separation is to locate and extract any leftover metal pieces from the plastic waste to further purify the stream.

Preparation For Selling as Recycled Materials

After the above-mentioned process of shredding, sorting, and separation, the separated materials are then prepared for sale as usable raw materials of the manufacturing of new electronics or other products.

Challenges for E-Waste Recycling Industry

There are several challenges ahead of the e-waste recycling industry.

  • The biggest challenge is exporting to developing nations, where workers working to dismantle the e-waste are suffering from serious health hazards due to inadequate environmental controls.
  • Although the volume of electronic waste is increasing quickly, its quality is decreasing. Devices are getting smaller, containing less precious metals. However, this also means that we do not have to worry about how long does it take for metal to decompose. The material values of several end-of-like electrical and electronic devices have therefore fallen sharply. Electronic recyclers are discouraged from recycling e-waste due to decreasing global prices of recycled materials, which have lesser margins and resulted in the closing of a business.
  • Another issue is that electronic devices are being made in such a way that is not easily repairable, reusable, or recyclable.

The current rate of electronic waster recycling is around 15%-18%, which is definitely not sufficient considering the fact that it takes years for its glass, metal, or plastic parts to decompose. Additionally, a single person uses multiple devices and changes these devices frequently. Therefore, working towards increasing the e-waste recycling rate is becoming increasingly necessary for the world.