What Happens to Your Electronics After They’re Recycled?


May 13, 2019

What Happens to Your Electronics After They’re Recycled?

We live in a world where little thought is given to the amount of waste we create. From unwanted clothing to renovations in our homes, and from the amount of paper we print out in offices to the technology we replace every year, we live in a very wasteful world. More and more people are becoming aware of just how much impact everything they throw away has on the environment, including unwanted electronics and technology. This is important because everything we dispose of adds to the landfills in our communities. Proper management of waste electronics should be top of mind for each of us, as well as companies large and small who need to remain up to date on their equipment, but also want to remain socially responsible.

Toxic Waste

Most people have little knowledge of what their electrical goods contain and why they are harmful to the environment. The main challenge is that most electronics contain levels of lead and other toxins. Considering that over 75% of waste electrical goods end up in landfill sites, this is harmful for the environment because these highly toxic substances leach into the soil and surrounding water. This causes dangerous contamination to the surrounding natural habitat, the wildlife, and the community. This is why it is so important to consider what can happen when electronics are not properly recycled.

Improper Handling

Improper management of waste electronics is a common occurrence with companies large and small. In fact, many aren’t even aware that what they are doing can be bad for the environment or even illegal. Improper handling can include:

  • Illegal dumping of electronics.
  • Shipping electronics offshore to developing countries.
  • Improper handling or disposal of toxic materials found in electronics.
  • Inadequate health and safety systems for workers handling and processing electronics.

Recycling Electronics

The good news is that most of the electrical items thrown away can be reused, refurbished, or recycled. By taking the effort to dispose of electronics properly, you can save natural finite resources and reduce the damaging materials added to landfills that can put both wildlife and the community at risk. Finding an electronics recycling program ensures electronics are recycled properly to protect the environment and those who handle items during the recycling process. These programs ensure materials are audited according to the Electronics Recycling Standard (ERS) and associated Recycler Qualification Program. These standards are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure all participants are using best practices to protect the environment and workers in the industry.

The list of recyclable electronics includes:

  • Display devices such as TVs and Monitors
  • Non-cellular phones
  • Audio-video equipment
  • Computers
  • Computer peripherals such as mice and keyboards
  • Printers
  • IT and Telecom equipment
  • Vehicle audio systems
  • Musical instruments
  • Gaming equipment and accessories
  • Medical equipment
  • Cellular devices
  • Office equipment such as photocopiers
  • Home theatres

Recycling Programs

These programs provide a safe and proper way in which electronics can be recycled. They are a trusted resource that helps identify environmental, health, and safety aspects of electronics disposal to ensure companies conform to the required process. The ERS prohibits the land filling of unwanted electronics, as well as the improper handling and disposal of hazardous materials. They are the watchdogs of electronic waste to avoid dangerous practices such as dumping equipment and parts, both locally and in developing nations.

Simple Drop Off

Electronics can be recycled free of charge when dropped off at your local collection depot. These approved sites undergo rigorous environmental audit and assessment processes to ensure they are compliant to proper end-of-life electronics disposal and recycling methods. So, what exactly happens to your electronics once they are recycled?

The Sorting Process

In a nutshell, recycling electronics requires the raw materials such as metals, glass, and plastics to be separated to ensure safe and proper disposal. There are three categories of materials which include:

  1. Non-Hazardous Materials: These materials can be sold to smelters for the production of raw materials and include ferrous and non-ferrous materials, including steel, aluminum, copper, wires and cables, other metals (brass, bronze, metal fines), plastics, wood, and glass (non-leaded).
  2. Electronic Scrap: Cables and wires, printed circuit boards (high, medium, and low grade), components, including hard drives, chips, and other electronic components.
  3. Substances of Concern: Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT), leaded plasma display glass and other leaded glass, rechargeable batteries, non-rechargeable batteries, including alkaline, lead acid, and coin cell batteries on circuit boards, mercury bearing lamps and switches, components containing polychlorinated biphenyls, and ink and toner cartridges.

The Recycling Process

There are two accepted approaches to electronics recycling:

Process 1

  • Elements that fume such as lead, zinc, cadmium, tin, germanium, indium, and others are captured and processed.
  • Silica, iron, and aluminum slag is converted into value-added products for the construction and cement industry. Organics, including plastics and wood, provide fuel to heat the furnace and convert to steam, which is used to heat process vessels.
  • Aluminum is removed to be sent for further refining
  • Copper and circuit boards are removed for sale to specialty metal refiners.

Process 2

  • Display devices, such as TVs and computer monitors, are hand-dismantled removing the leaded glass CRTs. Also, plastics, copper, and circuit boards are also hand-removed in this process and sent to downstream recyclers.
  • Computers, computer mice, and keyboards are sent through shredding processes whereby plastics are machine sorted.
  • Aluminum, copper, and steel are sorted through a mix of hand sorting and machine sorting to be sent for further recycling.
  • Plastics are machine sorted and sent to downstream recyclers for further processors.

The Components of Electronics

There are many components recovered in the electronics recycling process including:

  • Leaded glass
  • Non-leaded glass
  • Plastic
  • Circuit boards
  • Cables and wires
  • Metals
  • Batteries
  • Mercury-containing lamps
  • Inks and toners
  • Ethylene glycol

In the case where wood is found, it is safe to send to the landfill site.

We are a primary vendor providing recycling services under the Return-It Electronics program in British Columbia. We have diverted thousands of tonnes of electronic waste from local landfill sites. Our comprehensive decommissioning and recycling services have been helping guide corporate clients through the electronic recycling process, while also helping consumers avoid adding their electronic waste to local landfills.

If you would like more information on our electronics recycling services, call eCycle Solutions toll free at (888) 945-2611 or contact us here at our website.

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