The emerging area of electronic waste (e-waste) recovery is attracting increasing attention as governments of several developed countries issue directives to address the environmental hazards posed by existing methods to dispose waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Conventional methods, such as disposal in landfills and incineration, are both potentially damaging to the environment due to the leaching and emission of certain toxic substances respectively.
“Japan and some European nations have been forerunners in the recycling of e-waste,” remarks Technical Insights Research Analyst Hari Ramamoorthy. “Very soon, recycling directives for e-waste will be prevalent in many major countries and the various technologies developed for this purpose will be adapted globally.”
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Growing initiatives in countries such as China and Taiwan have also opened up a potentially profitable market for electronic waste recovery in Asia and could help identify more environment-friendly methods of disposing the toxic and hazardous substances found in e-waste.
One of the areas holding maximum growth potential within electronics recycling is plastics recycling. However, recovery techniques for this particular area are still emerging, especially with regard to separating high-value plastic streams from the mixed plastics present in electronic waste.
This challenge can be attributed to the presence of different types of brominated flame retardants in the plastic stream, which complicate the very process of recycling. While advanced technologies could help achieve this separation and consequently, effective plastics recycling, they are sure to face intense competition from traditional processes used in recovering energy from plastics.
“Improving technology for plastics recycling is bound to reduce the burden on oil-derived virgin plastics and provide sustainable development for the electronics manufacturing industry,” says Ramamoorthy.
Indeed, the increasing emphasis on e-waste recovery is forcing electronics equipment manufacturers to take greater responsibility for designing products that facilitate effective recycling. Given that they cater to global clients and have to comply with various directives in different countries, it is imperative for these manufacturers to develop successful product take-back programs as well as establish recycling operations or outsource them to major recyclers.
Essentially, manufacturers need to ensure the usage of appropriate technologies that can recycle large quantities of e-waste in a cost-effective manner. Since electronics recycling calls for the synchronized operation of different processes to achieve valuable material streams, the focus will increasingly shift to emerging technologies that are suitable for these processes.
“It is important for recyclers to anticipate the adaptations they might need to make to their processes in the next few years, as the incoming composition of e-waste is bound to change as well as develop secondary markets for the materials recovered,” says Ramamoorthy. “Directives such as WEEE and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) have firmly placed the responsibility on electronic equipment manufacturers to adopt design concepts with end-of-life recycling in mind.”
With the WEEE directive set to take effect in 2006, companies are seeking to identify the best available technology for recycling their end-of-life products. Electronic equipment manufacturers have to focus on developing emerging recycling technologies that will benefit their entire product portfolio.
Advances in Electronic Waste Recovery is part of the Electronic Devices Growth Partnership Services program and provides an overview of emerging technologies for electronics recycling, along with key drivers, restraints, and analysis of trends witnessed in the electronics recycling industry. In this research service, Technical Insights’ expert analysts thoroughly examine the following technologies: plastics recycling, metals recovery, CRT recycling, as well as sortation and separation techniques used for e-waste recovery. Executive summaries and interviews are available to the press.
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Advances in Electronic Waste Recovery