Electronic waste is a big problem. E-waste includes discarded televisions, computers and phones, which is also one of the fastest-growing waste categories worldwide. In an increasing number over the last few years, recyclers have ended up with usable parts, including metals, from this waste stream that is reusable.
While this is optimal from an environmental sustainability perspective, it’s unclear whether it’s reasonable from an economic viewpoint. Can these items be recycled at a realistic cost?
Expenses from e-waste recycling include elements like:
- Costs for waste collection
- Material and transportation
- Capital costs for the recyclers’ equipment and buildings.
Luckily for us, researchers from ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology report that recovering gold, copper and other metals from e-waste is cheaper than obtaining these metals from mines.
What are the details of electronic waste recycling and junk removal that you be aware of? The following information may help you weigh the pros and cons.
Frequently Replaced Electronics
Many electronics are made to last only a certain amount of time. Laptops, for instance, only last about four years before it is time to upgrade and replace them. With such a short lifespan, useful electronics transition into e-waste at a rapid pace. Cell phones are sold to around 25% of the population annually, and every year millions of electronic devices such as mobile phones, TVs, computers, laptops, and tablets reach the end of their useful life or become out of date.
What happens to old devices?
Unfortunately, the majority of the laptops, phones, and other electronic devices that we throw away end up in landfills, with only about 10-12% being recycled. According to a UN study, over 41.8 million tons of e-waste was discarded worldwide, with only 10%–40% percent of disposals appropriately done.
What many individuals don’t realize is that the average electric is full of valuable materials, including copper, tin, iron, aluminum, fossil fuels, titanium, gold, and silver. Many of the materials used in making these electronic devices can be recovered, reused, and recycled—including plastics, metals, and glass.
Benefits of E-Waste Recycling
The benefits of e-waste recycling are endless. One advantage is that recycling e-waste enables people to recover valuable metals — and other materials — that are used in the production of such products. Other benefits include:
- Saving natural resources
- Reducing pollution
- Conserving landfill space
- Creating new jobs
- Lowers production costs of new products
Recycling e-waste also helps cut down on production waste and polluting byproducts. According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, it takes 1.5 tons of water, 530 lbs of fossil fuel, and 40 pounds of chemicals to manufacture a single computer and monitor. 81% of the energy associated with a computer is used during production and not during operation.
The Electronics Recycling Process
Electronics recycling can be challenging because discarded electronics devices are sophisticated and manufactured from varying proportions of glass, metals, and plastics.
Here is a general overview of the process:
Collection and Transportation
Collection bins or electronics take-back booths are placed in select locations. E-waste is collected from these sites and sent to recycling facilities.
Shredding, sorting, and separation
After collection and transportation, e-waste must be processed and separated into clean commodities that can be used to make new products.
Preparation for sale
After the shredding, sorting and separation stages have been executed, the separated materials are prepared for sale to be used in new products.
Current Challenges for Electronics Recycling Industry
The challenges of the e-waste industry include:
- Exporting e-waste, including hazardous and toxic materials, is leading to serious health hazards for the workers dismantling electronic devices in countries without adequate environmental controls.
- Most e-waste collected is exported overseas, which is problematic because this waste often ends up in the landfills of underdeveloped countries who are not equipped to handle it.
- The inadequate management of electronics recycling has led to various health and environmental problems in both developed and developing countries.
- The volume of e-waste is increasing rapidly, while the quality of e-waste is decreasing. Devices are getting smaller and smaller, containing less precious metal. As a result, the value of recycling such products goes down as well.
- Many products are being made in ways that make them not easily recyclable, repairable, or reusable.
The current rate or level of e-waste recycling is definitely not keeping up with production and demand. Luckily, organizations such as ISRI have been active in promoting policies to broaden the range of authorized companies allowed to repair and refurbish smartphones to avoid their needless destruction.
To find out more about e-waste recycling techniques, call Junk Works at 1-888-888-JUNK or contact us here.