Category: E-waste

Circular economics and the $57B e-waste opportunity

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

There is a huge market in being able to divert these materials from landfills, and in being able to extend the asset life of products or the individual components within.

E-waste recycling boost ‘needed to enable transition to net-zero’

Read the full story at edie.

The UK alone is losing at least £13.6m worth of critical raw materials for the net-zero transition, such as lithium, to the linear economy each year, due to a lack of capacity for recycling used electricals and electronics.

Illinois EPA urges legal action against battery company over Morris fire

Read the full story in the Chicago Tribune.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is recommending the state attorney general’s office pursue legal action against Superior Battery, the unlicensed business that was storing as many as 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries that caught fire in Morris on Tuesday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

In its recommendation, the Illinois EPA “alleges Superior Battery Inc. has caused, threatened, or allowed the discharging of contaminants to the air and water, and disposed or abandoned waste at an unregulated facility.”

Its referral is called an “enforcement action,” requesting the state move to penalize the company for several alleged violations.

1,000 homes evacuated after pounds of lithium batteries explode in old Illinois paper mill

Read the full story in USA Today.

A raging industrial fire at an old paper mill in Illinois prompted at least 1,000 home evacuations as toxic fumes spewed into the air.  

For the second day, clouds of smoke filled the air in Morris as 180,000 to 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries continued to explode. 

G7: ‘Mount Recyclemore’ of leaders made from electronic waste in Cornwall

Read the full story from the BBC. The Instagram post is from one of the artists involved in the project.

A sculpture of the G7 leaders shaped like Mount Rushmore made of electronic waste has been erected in Cornwall ahead of the G7 Summit.

Recycling critical metals in e-waste: Make it the law, experts warn EU, citing raw material security

Read the full story from the CEWASTE Project.

End-of-life circuit boards, certain magnets in disc drives and electric vehicles, EV and other special battery types, and fluorescent lamps are among several electrical and electronic products containing critical raw materials (CRMs), the recycling of which should be made law, says a new UN-backed report funded by the EU.

How One Scientist Is Giving Old Phones a Second Life With E-Waste Microfactories

Read the full story at Discover.

Veena Sahajwalla launched a new way to recycle electronic waste that skips tons of transit and re-forms materials on-site. She’s since added plastics to the mix, and is expanding her microfactories across Australia.

Electronic waste in the US is changing

Read the full story in The Hill.

Americans spent $400 billion in 2020 on technologies like smartphones, computers, TVs and streaming media. Electronics have found their way into every aspect of modern life and work. But as products get replaced faster and repaired less, electronics are also finding their way into our trash, prompting some to call electronic waste (e-waste) the fastest growing waste stream in the world. 

But in the U.S., electronic waste is actually starting to decline. A new study, which I, Callie Babbitt, co-authored with Shahana Althaf, shows that the total weight of used electronics discarded by households shrunk 10 percent since its peak in 2015. The main reasons: technological innovation and shifting consumer preferences. For instance, households replaced bulky tube TVs with slimmer flat panel models — a shift spurred by the analog-to-digital TV transition a decade ago…

Unfortunately, many changes that make electronics lighter and more efficient end up making them harder to reuse and recycle. With less than 40 percent of used electronics being recovered in the U.S., we are wasting an enormous opportunity to capture the valuable materials and components they contain. We are also missing out on their potential contribution to the new administration’s ambitious plans to tackle climate change.

Renewable Energy Waste Streams: Preparing for the Future

Download the briefing paper.

U.S. investment in renewable energy systems will create new kinds and new volumes of waste. Not only are there byproducts and energy demands associated with production of green technologies, but these systems also produce materials requiring careful end-of-life management to avoid creating new Superfund sites and wasting of scarce and valuable resources. The following paper provides a summary of the challenges the nation will face in the recycling and proper disposal of these wastes.

Consumer electronics have changed a lot in 20 years – systems for managing e-waste aren’t keeping up

Most of the world’s electronics are not recycled, posing health and environmental risks. catscandotcom/Getty Images

by Callie Babbitt (Rochester Institute of Technology) and Shahana Althaf, (Yale University)

It’s hard to imagine navigating modern life without a mobile phone in hand. Computers, tablets and smartphones have transformed how we communicate, work, learn, share news and entertain ourselves. They became even more essential when the COVID-19 pandemic moved classes, meetings and social connections online.

But few people realize that our reliance on electronics comes with steep environmental costs, from mining minerals to disposing of used devices. Consumers can’t resist faster products with more storage and better cameras, but constant upgrades have created a growing global waste challenge. In 2019 alone, people discarded 53 million metric tons of electronic waste.

In our work as sustainability researchers, we study how consumer behavior and technological innovations influence the products that people buy, how long they keep them and how these items are reused or recycled.

Our research shows that while e-waste is rising globally, it’s declining in the U.S. But some innovations that are slimming down the e-waste stream are also making products harder to repair and recycle.

Sending electronics to junkyards or landfills wastes an opportunity to recycle valuable materials inside them. Joe Sohm/Visions of America /Getty Images

Recycling used electronics

Thirty years of data show why the volume of e-waste in the U.S. is decreasing. New products are lighter and more compact than past offerings. Smartphones and laptops have edged out desktop computers. Televisions with thin, flat screens have displaced bulkier cathode-ray tubes, and streaming services are doing the job that once required standalone MP3, DVD and Blu-ray players. U.S. households now produce about 10% less electronic waste by weight than they did at their peak in 2015.

The bad news is that only about 35% of U.S. e-waste is recycled. Consumers often don’t know where to recycle discarded products. If electronic devices decompose in landfills, hazardous compounds can leach into groundwater, including lead used in older circuit boards, mercury found in early LCD screens and flame retardants in plastics. This process poses health risks to people and wildlife.

There’s a clear need to recycle e-waste, both to protect public health and to recover valuable metals. Electronics contain rare minerals and precious metals mined in socially and ecologically vulnerable parts of the world. Reuse and recycling can reduce demand for “conflict minerals” and create new jobs and revenue streams.

But it’s not a simple process. Disassembling electronics for repair or material recovery is expensive and labor-intensive.

Some recycling companies have illegally stockpiled or abandoned e-waste. One Denver warehouse was called “an environmental disaster” when 8,000 tons of lead-filled tubes from old TVs were discovered there in 2013.

The U.S. exports up to 40% of its e-waste. Some goes to regions such as Southeast Asia that have little environmental oversight and few measures to protect workers who repair or recycle electronics.

Disassembling products and assembling data

Health and environmental risks have prompted 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to enact e-waste recycling laws. Some of these measures ban landfilling electronics, while others require manufacturers to support recycling efforts. All of them target large products, like old cathode-ray tube TVs, which contain up to 4 pounds of lead.

We wanted to know whether these laws, adopted from 2003 to 2011, can keep up with the current generation of electronic products. To find out, we needed a better estimate of how much e-waste the U.S. now produces.

We mapped sales of electronic products from the 1950s to the present, using data from industry reports, government sources and consumer surveys. Then we disassembled almost 100 devices, from obsolete VCRs to today’s smartphones and fitness trackers, to weigh and measure the materials they contained.

A researcher takes apart a smartphone to find out what materials are inside. Shahana Althaf, CC BY
This dissected tablet shows the components inside, each of which were logged, weighed and measured by researchers. Callie Babbitt, CC BY

We created a computer model to analyze the data, producing one of the most detailed accounts of U.S. electronic product consumption and discards currently available.

E-waste is leaner, but not necessarily greener

The big surprise from our research was that U.S. households are producing less e-waste, thanks to compact product designs and digital innovation. For example, a smartphone serves as an all-in-one phone, camera, MP3 player and portable navigation system. Flat-panel TVs are about 50% lighter than large-tube TVs and don’t contain any lead.

But not all innovations have been beneficial. To make lightweight products, manufacturers miniaturized components and glued parts together, making it harder to repair devices and more expensive to recycle them. Lithium-ion batteries pose another problem: They are hard to detect and remove, and they can spark disastrous fires during transportation or recycling.

Popular features that consumers love – speed, sharp images, responsive touch screens and long battery life – rely on metals like cobalt, indium and rare-earth elements that require immense energy and expense to mine. Commercial recycling technology cannot yet recover them profitably, although innovations are starting to emerge.

Apple’s new robot, Daisy, can disassemble nine different iPhone models to recover valuable materials that traditional recyclers cannot. Apple

Reenvisioning waste as a resource

We believe solving these challenges requires a proactive approach that treats digital discards as resources, not waste. Gold, silver, palladium and other valuable materials are now more concentrated in e-waste than in natural ores in the ground.

Urban mining,” in the form of recycling e-waste, could replace the need to dig up scarce metals, reducing environmental damage. It would also reduce U.S. dependence on minerals imported from other countries.

Concentration of hazardous (left) and valuable (right) materials within the U.S. e-waste stream. Althaf et al. 2020

Government, industry and consumers all have roles to play. Progress will require designing products that are easier to repair and reuse, and persuading consumers to keep their devices longer.

We also see a need for responsive e-waste laws in place of today’s dated patchwork of state regulations. Establishing convenient, certified recycling locations can keep more electronics out of landfills. With retooled operations, recyclers can recover more valuable materials from the e-waste stream. Steps like these can help balance our reliance on electronic devices with systems that better protect human health and the environment.

Callie Babbitt, Associate Professor of Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology and Shahana Althaf, Postdoctoral associate, Yale University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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