How is e-waste processed and reused?
E-waste is recovered in a number of ways, depending on the item, and can be repurposed for use in new batteries, electronics, homewares and more. In general, the process of repurposing e-waste follows the following steps.
1. Items are carefully disassembled
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.
2. Remaining components are shredded
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.
Australian Waste Management company Cleanaway has developed BluBox, a cutting-edge technology that automatically processes e-waste.
3. Raw materials are processed and sorted
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)
- 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.
4. Repurposed e-waste can be used in new batteries, electronics, homewares and more
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 circuit boards and batteries go to Singapore for processing. Other components, such as copper, steel and plastics, are smelted here in Australia.
The goal is to make a closed loop, where a new product isn’t made from raw materials but, instead, from fully recovered components, which in turn are also completely recoverable.
Once all the different components of your e-waste are back in the supply chain, they can be reused to make almost anything.
|Recovered component from e-waste||New uses|
|Plastic||Plastic fence posts, pallets, casings, toys, keyboards|
|Precious metals||Jewellery, reuse in new electronics|
|Glass||New screens for TVs and monitors, home wares|
|Other metals||Reuse in new products, cabling|