As technology advances we are constantly using computers, mobile-phones, TVs, refrigerators, electric ovens and other electronics. These electronics are being upgraded constantly. In order to survive in the competitive market electronics companies are launching newer models every day. Again, to sell these new models attractive and alluring advertisement campaigns are being launched. As a result people are buying new electronics weather they need or not and often dumping the old ones. This electronic trash or E-waste is often harder to recycle because they are made with various combinations of metals, plastics, semiconductors and other materials.
Electronic trash is going to be the next major problem for our environment. As we are getting more and more dependent on technology, the amounts of E-waste we produce are increasing. This E-waste ends up in landfills. Toxics like lead, mercury, and cadmium leak from these E-wastes into the soil and water. The E-waste problem is huge: More than 20 million tons of e-waste is produced every year. Electronic waste affects nearly every system in the human body because they contain an overabundance of toxic components including Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Polybrominated Flame Retardants, Barium and Lithium. When they are just dumped they pollute air, water and soil. These chemicals are harmful for flora and fauna. These intoxications can cause cancer, liver and kidney failure, skin problems and various other deadly diseases.
So to reduce the production of E-waste, we should take following measures:
We should not be brainwashed by the corporate companies with new upgrade of products and their mesmerizing marketing strategy. We should rethink and before buying any new electronics. If the previous one does the job then we should not just upgrade electronics just for the sake of upgrading.
We cannot just throw away our old electronics. We can repair the malfunctioning electronic and reuse them. We can also sell our used electronics products when we are upgrading. When we are purchasing we should buy used, repaired or reconditioned products if they meet our requirements. Both selling used goods and re-buying saves money while saving the environment.
Though recycling E-waste is complicated and highly labor intensive, but it is not impossible. Electrical waste contains hazardous but also valuable and scarce materials. Up to 60 elements from the Periodic Table of the Elements can be found in complex electronics. We should put the extra effort to recycle the E-waste. E-waste recycling can be profitable too.
The e-waste recycling process is highly labor intensive and goes through several steps. Below is the step-by-step process of how e-waste is recycled:
- When the e-waste items arrive at the recycling plants, the first step involves sorting all the items manually. Batteries are removed for quality check.
- After sorting by hand, the second step involves a serious labor intensive process of manual dismantling. The e-waste items are taken apart to retrieve all the parts and then categorized into core materials and components. The dismantled items are then separated into various categories into parts that can be re-used or still continue the recycling processes.
- Here, items that cannot be dismantled efficiently are shredded together with the other dismantled parts to pieces less than 2 inches in diameter. It is done in preparation for further categorization of the finer e-waste pieces.
- The finer e-waste particles are then evenly spread out through an automated shaking process on a conveyor belt. The well spread out e-waste pieces are then broken down further. At this stage, any dust is extracted and discarded in a way that does not degrade the environmentally.
- At this step, over-band magnet is used to remove all the magnetic materials including steel and iron from the e-waste debris.
- The sixth step is the separation of metals and non-metallic components. Copper, aluminum, and brass are separated from the debris to only leave behind non-metallic materials. The metals are either sold as raw materials or re-used for fresh manufacture.
- As the last step, plastic content is separated from glass by use of water. One separated, all the materials retrieved can then be resold as raw materials for re-use. The products sold include plastic, glass, copper, iron, steel, shredded circuit boards, and valuable metal mix.
E-cycle components re-use
- All the plastic materials retrieved are sent to recyclers who use them to manufacture items such as fence posts, plastic sleepers, plastic trays, vineyard stakes, and equipment holders or insulators among other plastic products.
- Scrap metals materials retrieved are sent to recyclers to manufacture new steel and other metallic materials.
- Glass is retrieved from the Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) mostly found in televisions and computer monitors. Extracting glass for recycling from CRTs is a more complicated task since CRTs are composed of several hazardous materials. Lead is the most dangerous and can adversely harm human health and the environment. Tubes in big CRT monitors can contain high levels of lead of up to 4 kilograms. Other toxic metals such as barium and phosphor are also contained in CRT tubes. To achieve the best environmentally friendly glass extraction, the following steps ensure a specialized CRT recycling:
- Manual separation of the CRT from the television or monitor body
- Size reduction process where the CRT is shredded into smaller pieces. Dust is eliminated and disposed in an environmentally friendly way.
- All metals are removal through over-band magnets, where ferrous and non-ferrous components are eliminated from the glass materials.
- A washing line is then used to clear oxides and phosphors from the glass
- Glass sorting is the final step whereby leaded glass is separated from non-leaded glass. The extracts can then be used for making new screens.
- Mercury containing devices are sent to mercury recycling facilities that uses a specialized technology for elimination for use in dental amalgams and metric instruments, and for fluorescent lighting. Other components such as glass and plastics are re-used for manufacture of their respective products.
- Printed Circuit Boards. Circuit boards are sent to specialized and accredited companies where they are smelted to recover non-renewable resources such as silver, tin, gold, palladium, copper and other valuable metals.
- Hard Drives. Hard drives are shredded in whole and processed into aluminum ingots for use in automotive industry.
- Ink and Toner Cartridges. Ink and toner cartridges are taken back to respective manufacturing industries for recycling. They are remanufactured while those that can’t are separated into metal and plastic for re-use as raw materials.
- Batteries are taken to specialized recyclers where they are hulled to take out plastic. The metals are smelted is specialized conditions to recover nickel, steel, cadmium and cobalt that are re-used for new battery production and fabrication of stainless steel. Batteries are taken to specialized recyclers where they are hulled to take out plastic. The metals are smelted is specialized conditions to recover nickel, steel, cadmium and cobalt that are re-used for new battery production and fabrication of stainless steel.
Some of the common E-wastes include: home appliances such as televisions, air conditioners, electric cookers and heaters, air condoners, fans, DVDs, Radios and microwaves among others; information technology equipments such as computers, mobile phones, laptops, batteries, circuit boards, hard disks, and monitors among others; and other electronic utilities such as leisure, lighting, and sporting equipments. 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.
According to Wikipedia,
“Electronic waste or e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal are also considered e-waste. Informal processing of electronic waste in developing countries may cause serious health and pollution problems, as these countries have limited regulatory oversight of e-waste processing.”
E-waste is a serious environmental problem, from toxic chemicals and heavy metals leaching into soils in landfills, to the pollution to air and water supplies caused through improper recycling techniques in developing countries. So we have to reduce the production of E-waste; reuse electronics as much as possible; re-sell & re-buy; and take efforts to recycle E-waste to save the environment.
Reference: www.conserve-energy-future.com, www.wikipedia.org