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An Empire of Electronic Waste

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by - 6/28/2016 13897 Views

E-Gadgets Streamlined yet Challenging for Recycling!

As soon as we pay out for a new e-gadget or 9.7-inch tablet or 4K / 3D / LED flat screen television, a tiny part of our brain is already plotting its disposal. Thanks to rapid changes in technology, a shifting media landscape, and falling prices, discarded electronics have become the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.

Recycling e-waste scrap demands the ability to collect, sort, dismantle, and extract recyclable materials and precious metals from a whole range of e-devices, while also sifting out non-recyclable and hazardous waste carefully. To be a large-scale e-waste recycler you need to have a fleet of vehicles, an army of workers, ample warehouse space, government contracts, and loads of insurance. The profits are slim, the overhead is huge, and regulatory landscape is endlessly confusing.

There’s a disastrous effect that e-waste scrap is having on Third World countries. The US is the only developed nation that hasn’t ratified an international treaty to stop First World countries from dumping their e-waste in developing nations. So, an Everest of hazardous US-based waste is growing at an exponential rate in countries like India, China, and South Africa. Exported e-waste has turned rivers in China black and towns in Ghana into some of the world’s largest dumps. The UN Environment Programme predicts that between 2007 and 2020, the amount of e-waste exported to India will have jumped by 500 percent and by 200 to 400 percent in South Africa and China.

Corporate America — financial service firms, medical groups, insurance companies, basically anyone with industrial secrets they want to protect — sends its leftover e-waste scrap to be scrubbed of data, refurbished, resold, or completely recycled. Thirty-plus security cameras cover the area, known at ERI as the "asset management" wing. No one without special clearance is allowed in. All the electronics going in have to match the weight of material that comes out, down to the milligram. "Sounds like overkill," says Scott Townsend, director of recycling solutions. "But we’re not willing to take that chance."

The memory-wiping process is hardly instantaneous — one terabyte, or 1,000 GBs, takes 10 hours. ERI has a "zero tolerance" policy: if the company fails to wipe the drive, the item takes a permanent detour to the shredder.

A facility like ERI can harvest 170,000 pounds of copper and 525 pounds of gold, silver, and palladium a month. Where do those precious commodities go? Simply put, they’re sent to burn. The smelting industry in the US is in decline, with plants shuttering across the country. Fifteen years ago, there were 23 active aluminum smelters in the US. Today there are only six. Alcoa, which most recently closed its Evansville, Indiana facility in January, has just one US smelter still in operation in Massena, New York, and that’s only because of a $70 million aid package from the state. It’s not hard to envision a future in which all smelting is outsourced to countries like China and Russia, where safety standards are lax in comparison.


ERI says it recycles 98 percent of the electronics it collects — the only components not recycled are the wood from old console TVs and speakers and other equipment with wood. The company then sells its precious metal materials to two main smelters: LS Nikko, which is based in South Korea; and Alcoa. Once material is processed at the smelters they create a more pure commodity to be sold on the commodities market.

The e-waste scrap prices have fluctuated wildly since the market crashed in 2008. At a certain point, recyclers of e-waste can spend more money recycling electronics than they make selling the post-recyclable material back to the manufacturers.

Meanwhile, more and more electronics are getting tossed in the trash. Every day, ERI’s Holliston facility shreds: 73,500 lbs of cathode ray tubes, 13,500 lbs of flat screens, 15,000 lbs of computers.

Globally, people threw away 46 million tons of e-waste in 2014, or over 92 billion pounds. That number is expected to more than double in 2016, to about 187 billion pounds.

By 2017, the global volume of e-waste will weigh the equivalent of eight of the great Egyptian pyramids, according to the UN. Or to put it another way, an amount equal to 126 Empire State Buildings. That’s a veritable skyline of e-waste, and it’s rising taller every day.

Category : Electronics

Tags : E-Waste Scrap, E-Waste Scrap Market, E-Waste Scrap Price, Recycling E-Waste Scrap

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About Georgy Abraham

As the bright morning of 28th May dawned in the year 1972, in the fulfillment of time according to the plan & will of Almighty Godbrought me forth into this world and I was brought up & educated in Orissa. My parents provided me with the best of education in an English medium school with high standa .... more info


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