E-waste Recycling Technologies

What is E-waste Recycling

Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to any discarded products with a battery or plug. The biggest e-waste categories are small and large appliances and heating/cooling equipment. E-waste is classed as a hazardous substance, and if not collected and recycled properly, can have adverse environmental impacts. Also, the recoverable material in e-waste represents significant economic value.

Globally, only 17.4% of e-waste was recycled properly in 2019, with the remaining 82.6% either not recycled or not formally tracked. The e-waste recycling rates are highest in Europe with countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom (UK) recycling more than 50% of the e-waste generated in 2017. In contrast, countries in Asia and South America, such as India (0.92%), Russia (5%), and Brazil (0.006%) have low e-waste recycling rates.

E-waste recycling refers to the reprocessing and re-use of these electronic wastes. There are two significant recycling technologies of e-waste – hazardous and non-hazardous technologies. The informal ways of disposal which result in exposing environment to the hazardous substances is appropriately named as hazardous technologies or methods. And the technology which safeguards the environment and does not release harmful substances to the environment are named as non-hazardous technology.

Hazardous Technologies

The technology includes incineration, open burning and filling methods . It is widely used for the disposal of e-waste in developing and underdeveloped countries due to its low operative cost and fast returns.

Incineration

Burning in controlled conditions is called Incineration. The e-waste along with medical waste is sent in bulks to the unit. The burning of both wastes may happen together or separately, based on the capacity of operations. There are no controls or checks to assure the type of waste taken for incineration in one workload. The hazardous materials released during the incineration process are dispersed in air, this is extremely threatening and dangerous way of recycling.

Open Burning

The e-waste is dumped along with solid waste and burned in large fields. Open burning happens at lower temperature; hence it is more harmful than incineration as it releases much more pollutants than in a controlled incineration. Inhalation of the air can cause asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and eye irritation. Extreme exposure can lead to open fire emissions may lead to diseases such as emphysema and cancer.

Non-Hazardous Recycling Technologies

The Non Hazardous recycling of e-waste comprises three steps: detoxification, shredding and refining.

Detoxification

The first step of recycling process is the removal of hazardous components from the e-waste in order to avoid contamination of downstream processes in the recycling mechanism. e.g. CRT, bulb, lead etc.

Shredding

The second step of e-waste recycling is shredding. It uses magnetic and eddy current and air separators. The gasses emitted are filtered and residual matter are treated to minimize environmental impact. It allows greater concentrates of recyclables materials, which allows easy separation of hazardous material. Crushing units, shredders, magnetic- and eddy-current- and air-separators forms the mechanical process involved in the shredding. The gas emissions from this process are filtered and effluents are treated to minimize environmental impact.

Refining

The third step of e-waste recycling is refining. Refining of resources in e-waste is possible and the technical solutions exist to get back raw material with minimal environmental impact. Most of the fractions need to be refined or conditioned in order to be sold as secondary raw materials or to be disposed of in a final disposal site, respectively. During the refining process, three types of materials is paid attention: Metals, plastics and glass.

Benefits of E-waste Recycling

  1. As primary metal resources are depleted it will be critical to recovery and reuse many metals and rare earth elements from secondary resources, like e-waste.
  2. Recycling e-waste is important from an energy conservation perspective as well. Using materials recycled from e-waste to supplement virgin resources can result in major energy savings and can also lessen the environmental impact associated with the mining and refining of raw materials.
  3. In addition to the economic benefits of e-waste recycling, it is also important to consider the impact that unrecycled or improperly treated e-waste has on the environment. In particular, PCBs are composed of a range of hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR), chlorofluorocarbons and hydro chlorofluorocarbons. If improperly handled and disposed of in unlined landfills, these compounds contaminate groundwater and pose a significant risk to the environment and human health.
  4. Because of its positive economic and environmental impacts, recycling of e-waste supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Final Thoughts

E-waste recycling is a serious concern for the environment as well as human health. If the e-waste is not recycled properly, it can pose a serious threat to the environment.

Apart from that, the e-waste has a lot of economic value, which needs to be harnessed, otherwise, it will a huge loss of the natural resources. The circular economy approach toward the e-waste management is the need of the hour and countries should enforce rules and regulations to formalize the handling of the e-waste.

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