What E-Waste Recyclers Won't Say
|Contributed by Rossana Ruey
When you're making the decision to toss your PC, MAC, Blackberry, or iPhone do you know what actually happens to them? When the life of an electronic ends it becomes electronic waste, also known as e-waste. E-waste recyclers collect end of life electronics. Why? To trade. E-waste recyclers collect electronics for the purposes of trading intact electronics or trade commodities like copper, aluminum, plastics, circuit boards and more, after the electronic has been dismantled. Incidentally, e-waste recyclers are informal commodity traders.
MECHANICAL vs. MANUAL DE-MANUFACTURING
What e-waste recyclers won't say is that is there is an occupational hazard plus an economic and environmental impact to recycling. A majority of e-waste recyclers mechanically de-manufacturer e-waste in the US. Mechanical de-manufacturing is using machines, like a knife, hammermill, and/or chain shredder to break down the electronics. If the electronic is mechanically dismantled, the commodities end up co-mingled -- contaminated -- at that point it's called residue or fluff. Recyclers don't say there is no value in residue but the fact is no one will buy residue. Electronic residue must then be manually separated into commodities to have value. Manual de-manufacturing can also be done at the onset, by manually taking the electronic apart and separating the parts directly into commodities. Once separated into commodities an electronic item can be reincarnated to post-consumer raw material. Using shredders suffices the needs of their client's destruction requirement and instructions, and demonstrates to the recycler's clients that the electronic assets they have entrusted the recycler with is destroyed. Unfortunately, often times the recycler's client (consumers or a business), does not discern the environmental impact of mechanical de-manufacturing of electronics. They only know their requirement.
CREATING VALUE FROM TRASH
What recyclers don't say is that if the residue is not separated properly, what they have is something with no value...in other words, trash. Separating and processing electronic trash to a level that it becomes raw material has a financial impact and many benefits. Producing raw materials from recycled electronics creates jobs and is sustainable. Mechanical dismantling means trading the mixed components and exporting that to developing countries to sort, thereby making our trash someone else's problem. Exporting intact electronics, on the other hand is causing the developing countries on the receiving end to be resourceful in finding ways to get value from the components and parts. Developing countries then take on finding a solution to the trash problem. Perhaps not a solution the western world would agree with, but a solution.
CLOSING THE LOOP
For example, an intact computer tower manually dismantled captures aluminum from the frame, copper from the power supply, wires and hard drive, precious metals like gold and silver on a motherboard (also known as a circuit board) and ABS plastics from the panels. These commodities, if not mixed together and separated properly, all have value. Mechanical dismantling of a CRT captures the same aluminum, plastic, copper, and precious metals but it is contaminated residue that cannot even be given away for free as it is. Processing commodities adds value. All the metals like clean aluminum, clean copper, gold, and silver not mixed with anything else can be sold for raw material. ABS plastic scrap free of contaminates can be reincarnated into post consumer plastic pellets. All valuable. And a way to truly begin to close the loop on an endless cycle of trash circling the globe. You decide, which is more sustainable?