Computers and electronic equipment are made from multiple types of plastic, metal, glass and precious metals. Our goal when recycling electronics is to separate the different materials from each other. The “product” we produce from recycling is clean separated streams of recycled plastic, iron, steel, copper, aluminum, glass and precious metals. The better we separate the materials, the more ways these commodities can be used to make next generation products.
Recycling of E-Waste
Watch Video – How Computers are Recycled
2-1/2 minute video shows electronics being recycled at a SLS facility.
Step 1 – Receiving and Pre-Processing
We receive, sort and process computer equipment from businesses based on client specific needs. The client reports we are able to produce depends on how equipment is handled prior to being recycled.
Reporting by Weight
If the unit of measure for client reports is by weight, pre-processing will include weighing shipments as they are received and manual removal of hazardous items (such as batteries). When required, equipment can be sorted by type or material to facilitate more detailed client reporting based on weight.
Reporting by Item
Some clients need reporting by item instead of by weight. In this case, in addition to weighing shipments, each item received will be scanned and audited according to client requirements. Data is destroyed on data bearing items prior to recycling.
Step 2 – Hazard Removal
After equipment is received, the next step in computer recycling is to remove and separate hazardous materials, including batteries, toner/ink, mercury bulbs found in some scanners/printers and cathode ray tubes from monitors, which contain lead. This manual process ensures hazards are disposed in a compliant manner and is important in providing an environmentally sound solution.
Step 3 – Shredding
Our major recycling sites are equipped with automated industrial shredders, conveyor systems and sorting equipment. After hazards are removed, the computer equipment is fed by conveyor into a large shredder. The shredder tears the material into large pieces, about 2” to 6” in diameter. This first step prepares the e-waste to begin the process of separating plastic parts from steel, copper, aluminum, glass and other commodities.
Adjacent manned support services include hard drive destruction, parts recovery, asset repair and resell and managing safe disposal of hazardous waste.
Step 4 – Sorting of Commodities
After shredding, the conveyor belts push the e-waste through magnets, eddy currents, infrared cameras and air jets. These technologies sort out different material types and separate sorted material from the e-waste stream.
Iron and steel is separated from the e-waste, then aluminum, copper and circuit boards are separated. After the bulk metal is removed, the e-waste stream, which is now mainly plastic, is further separated into ABS from polystyrene plastic. In the final step, the plastic is sent through an advanced metal removal process, to remove any residual metal and improve the purity of the plastic stream.
Details of how we separate different e-waste materials are described below:
After shredding, conveyor belts transfer the shredded computers and e-waste under a powerful magnet, which separates iron and steel from the shredded e-waste. The steel and iron are collected in pallet sized bags and prepared for sale as recycled commodity materials.
After passing under the magnet, the e-waste continues to move via the conveyor belts through additional mechanical separators. Non-ferrous metals (aluminum, copper and circuit boards) are extracted from the e-waste stream through advanced separation equipment. A visual inspection and hand sorting improves the quality of the extracted materials. The separated streams of aluminum, copper, and circuit boards are collected in pallet sized bags and prepared for sale as recycled commodity materials.
The remaining e-waste stream is now mostly plastic. We have developed and implemented best-in-class plastic separation technology that enables us to produce clean streams of plastic. Being able to separate one type of plastic from another is the most challenging part of recycling electronics. At the same time, complete separation of different plastics is key to using recycled plastic to make new products. We have significantly improved conventional recycling to truly close the loop for plastics recycling. Separated plastic from our recycling line is then used by compounders to produce plastic granulates that are directly used to make new electronics. This is a huge step forward in sustainable recycling as plastics are one of the most problematic materials to recycle from electronics. Few recyclers invest in this plastic separation technology.
The separated commodities are used to make next generation products. Increasing recycled material in making new products decreases the demand for virgin raw materials, which need to be extracted from the earth. Using recycled material in the manufacturing of new products has benefits that go far beyond material reuse. It reduces pollution and carbon emissions, reduces energy and water consumption and keeps useful materials out of landfills.
Step 5 – Collection and Shipment of Separated Commodities
As each commodity is separated from the e-waste stream, the material is collected in pallet sacks or large cardboard boxes and shipped to another processor or directly to a manufacturer. Using recycled material in the manufacturing of new products has benefits that go far beyond material reuse. It reduces pollution and carbon emissions, reduces energy and water consumption and keeps useful materials out of landfills.
SLS has earned a reputation of producing high quality recyclables out of our facilities. Manufacturers and secondary processors seek us out in using our recycled commodities.