Electronic waste or e-waste is a term used to describe all manner of electronic gadgets and equipment, for example TVs, radios, refrigerators, microwaves, electronic watches, computers, printers, scanners, cameras, laptops, light bulbs, cell phones and their accompanying peripherals that are rendered unusable for one reason or another and end up being dumped into the environment.
Why recycle electronic waste?
It is becoming a common trend to recycle electronic waste instead of just disposing it because first, this ensures that resources in the environment are reasonably and cost-effectively conserved. This is because some of the parts and components of electronic waste are usually reusable, for example plastic parts, metals in the micro-circuit boards, glass in the cathode ray tubes and so on.
Secondly, electronic waste is one of the main causes of environmental pollution. Apart from visual pollution some of the parts and components of the electronics, for example cathode ray tubes, contain harmful substances like lead which if left haphazardly in the environment may find their way into human consumption leading to ill effects on health. Recycling thus stops this from happening and goes a step towards creating a cleaner environment less prone to the risk of harmful substance exposure to humans.
The Electronic Waste Recycling Process
Electronic waste is generally recycled in a two step process; sorting and treatment.
Sorting is the thorough separation of the mass of electronic waste into distinct material categories, for example: plastics, metals, glass, wood, rubber and so on. Another way of sorting is according to particular components which undergo a particular treatment, for example: hard disks, cathode ray tubes, mother-boards, cell-phone circuitry, camera lenses, batteries, flash disks, CDs, DVDs, cables, switches, processors and so on.
Treatment is the actual processing of the groups or categories of sorted electronic waste, usually by different processing entities for each category of material or component.
E-waste processing methods
Plastics are melted down and remade into other useful articles.
Glass from cathode ray tubes is usually reused in making of new cathode ray tube monitors. (Cathode ray tubes contain high amounts of lead which is highly toxic.)
Mercury, a prevalent toxic substance is usually extracted and reused in dental practice while phosphorus obtained from bulbs is used to make fertilizer.
Wood from older generation electronics (speakers, radios and television sets) is usually shredded and used in agriculture or to make fuel material.
Component parts like hard disks which are made of aluminium are smelted and the resultant metal ingots used in making vehicle parts.
There are also certain machine parts that are expressly sent back to the manufacturer for recycling, for example printer toner cartridges. Here we see that recycling does not necessarily mean actively doing the treatment of the electronic waste, but may also be about categorizing and sending off the components back to the manufacturer (for those manufacturers who recycle).
Some metals such as barium are extracted via electrolysis and reused. Likewise extracted nickel and cadmium are reused in the making of fortified steels and dry cells.