Where does it all go?

You’ve done the right thing and dropped your old technology at an appropriate e-waste recycling facility. What happens to it now?

The answer depends of what the item was and where—or with which organisation—you disposed of it. The way e-waste is recycled can vary, but it generally follows a similar pattern:

Flowchart with fours steps: disassembly to shredding to sorting to repurposed.

Disassembly


Depending on the type of device, some manual disassembly may occur. Batteries and casings are removed from phones, steel casings from around hard-drives, while cartridges and toners are detached from printers. The glass from TVs and monitors (especially older-style cathode-ray tube products) will be carefully separated to avoid the release of any toxic lead or mercury that may be present.

Shredding (size reduction)


After initial disassembly, the remaining items and components are sent to a shredder, which reduces the size of components to between 1cm and 10cm. Data destruction also takes place at this stage.

Sorting


Sorting of the shredded material is often a manual process, though automated machines are also used. 

Several processes are used including:

- magnets to remove ferrous metals (steel, copper)
- eddy currents to separate non-ferrous metals such as aluminium
- infrared beams, lasers or X-rays, and bursts of compressed air to identify various plastics and other metals
- water is used to separate plastics from glass
- any contaminants are treated and removed.

Repurposed


Once all the materials have been sorted into their raw form they can be resold to suppliers to make new products.

While most of our e-waste is dismantled into its various components here in Australia, some materials are sent overseas for final processing. Many batteries are sent to South Korea, while Singapore takes circuit boards and batteries. Other components, such as copper, steel and plastics, are smelted here in Australia.

With correct techniques, up to 90 per cent of e-waste can be recycled.

The goal is to make a closed loop, where a new product isn’t made from raw materials but, instead, from fully recycled components, which in turn are also completely recyclable.

Once all the different components of your e-waste are back in the supply chain, they can be reused to make almost anything. For example:

Recovered component from e-waste New uses
Plastic Plastic fence posts, pallets, casings, toys, keyboards
Batteries New batteries
Precious metals Jewellery, reuse in new electronics
Glass New screens for TVs and monitors, home wares
Other metals Reuse in new products, cabling