Photo by takomabibelot via Flickr Creative Commons
One of the key reasons why we have a problem with old electronics being exported to toxic e-waste dumps is because that's where it's cheapest to deal with the stuff. Solving that problem means becoming more efficient with our recycling processes here in the US, so that there are no excuses for not dealing with our own mess. A recycling plant newly opened in Mississauga outside Toronto, Sims Recycling Solutions, is leading the way in smart methods for amping up the recycling process. CNET has a great slideshow of images from an e-waste shredder, so you can get an idea of what the process looks like, and reports on what Sims Recycling Solutions is doing to automate the recycling stream. You can check out automations of the process as well. The facility is taking the technology already in use in recycling facilities, like optical sensors and metal-separating machines, and applying it specifically to e-waste. It can even collect the dust and process that so nothing goes to waste.
The upgrade comes as the company tries to make recycling profitable, which is tough to do. They rely on the fee charged on electronics at the time of purchase as well as collection fees. That means that yes, even the dust is valuable. The company will be able to process and resell 75,000 metric tons of e-waste annually. That's a whole lot of old gadgets, from monitors to computers to cell phones, whose parts can be re-purposed.
CNET's Martin LaMonica writes that toxic material like florescent bulbs and batteries are sorted out beforehand, then gadgets are shredded, sent down conveyor belts where magnets separate metals, and sensors pick out glass from plastics. Here's a video of the process for CRT monitors:
While the process is more high-tech and efficient, and is therefore a model for the recycling industry, it also underscores the larger problem of recycling -- it's expensive and a big hassle. That's why we love gadget design that incorporates reparability, and easy separation of components for easy and inexpensive recycling. The best example of this design out there right now is the Bloom Laptop, designed by college students.
Smart tech for recycling plants is a must-have for a future filled with obsolete gadgets, but even more exciting than automated recycling with cool optical sensors sorting conveyor belts filled with shredded electronics, is the process of designing that obsolescence right out of the devices in the first place.
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More on e-waste recycling
CES 2011: How Green Is the Gadget Industry? New Report Talks Progress
E-Waste in India To Rise 500% by 2020
Wisconsin Requiring Electronics Manufacturers to Pay for E-Waste
European Parliament Backs Tough Electronic Waste Recycling Targets