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Electronic Waste.
Zoomup
3166 Posts
One for ebee linked to his earlier link. Drowning under a sea of old  electronic junk and rusting E.V.s

UK electrical waste mountain growing - BBC News

Z.
5 Replies
I did attempt to explain exactly why in another thread Z. I have considerable knowledge of the waste industry, and the reason for this is that that the value of the materials is actually tiny, and the cost of sorting fully, huge. I expect you throw away old accessories, MCBs, etc daily. Look at the value, even new ones are pretty cheap. The plastic is thermosetting so is not recyclable (this means that a chemical change takes place during the moulding process which cannot be reversed). The metal parts are mainly plated steel, and if in bulk, sorted and clean worth about £100 per tonne. There are a few grammes of copper, brass etc in the internal conductors, usually firmly riveted to steel or other contaminants, and a tiny amount of contact material that can possibly be recovered electrolytically. This uses a lot of electricity to recover fairly impure metals with a consequent very low value, which is generally not economic and therefore end up in the steelworks slag.

To get better value some items can be dismantled by hand, but the work is hard, needs skill and a lot of tools, and again is usually only marginally worthwhile, if at all. It is a good experience to attempt to dismantle a white good, say a washing machine yourself, and to attempt to sort the materials (not parts) fully. Steel, stainless steel, copper, plastics separated into types, and non-recyclable materials such as sound deadening, lubricants, rubber, and a few other parts which are difficult such as stoved painted items (energy-intensive and a lot of slag and furnace fumes) etc. It will take you your entire tool collection and several hours and the materials will be worth a few quid. Even getting the copper from the motor and solenoid valves is hard and the value of insulated fine wires is very low. The electronic parts are valueless and will end up in landfill.

Very large shredding and sorting plants do exist, but they are very expensive to buy and operate, have huge power consumption and do not sort small stuff very well, but still produce a large quantity of landfill. The steel usually gets sent to China by the shipload, mainly from scrap cars. Typically they have a big hammer mill, with a motor drive of several MW, and the results are scraps of a few inches dimension, which are sorted for material content, so very small content is lost in the steel pile. They are very noisy, dusty and need a lot of maintenance due to hammer wear and similar with cameras and spectrometers and other high tech bits which don't like the environment, which is horrible as you can imagine!

It is easy to say recycle more, but the difficulties in doing so are huge, because products are very complex and the materials are very well mixed. This is not understood by the Greens or Politicians who set targets in terms of percentages, which are largely unachievable. Thermoplastics could be better recycled, although using them as a fuel is much easier because dirty degraded plastic has changed the structure so cannot be reused easily. Take the outside UV damaged PVC. It is no use for anything as the strength and structure cannot be recovered because the long-chain (polymer) molecules are broken into short pieces. The colour is very difficult to change unless a black filler is added, it is useless.

I'm sure that many of you buy black bin bags made from recycled material. You will notice the smell of the bags is unpleasant, this is because it is partially degraded and contains a good percentage of often rather nasty organic dirt. They are not very strong because the polymer chains are too short. They are always black to disguise the coloured content with a carbon black (from oil) filler. Do not use them for anything but landfill, they are likely to be fairly dangerous in contact with food.

Now you know why the waste industry cannot recycle everything and is fairly choosey about what is processed. The value of many items (LCD screen products mentioned in the link for example) have a severely negative value, all you can get is landfill and possibly sand!
dcbwhaley
55 Posts
Recycling has to start at the design phase.  Use materials that can be recycled.  With white goods  make it easy to change failed components and keep a large inventory of spares for many years

And yes.  I am aware of the downside of that
mapj1
3760 Posts
Indeed, but you can only run a repair business if it is not cheaper to throw away the whole unit and fit a new one, and in many areas that is not true. There are however things that could be done to make things easier to repair, screws instead of glue and rivets, only potting things that really have to be, not sure how you get makers to do that.
It is quite fun to look at the innards of something from the 1950s - as a noddy example for anyone old enough to recall "Music and Movement' at School,  there are valved Clark and Smith amplifiers that drove countless wooden boxed speakers in school halls that are still going strong because they were designed to be maintained, though the purchase cost had some  premium for it.
The other side of the coin is the deliberate design for kit to have a short life, to make sure next years model sells. In many ways this was the error of many UK companies, and the likes of Clark and Smith went under because their stuff by and large could have lasted for ever, but instead became outdated, (24 RPM record player anyone ?) and in the end much of it went into the skip,  or is still in a store cupboard fully working but unwanted, in favour of imported plastic things that had a shorter working life but were cheaper and lighter, and themselves were unrepairable scrap within a few years.
By skimping on heatsinks and the size of the power transistors you can make things as unreliable as you like, hours to failure being exponentially a function of temperature for most electronics.
The change required to manage the landfill problems, rather like truly fixing the housing market, will be more fundamental than twiddling with a 'recycle' target.
Mike.
I assure you that it does, but in many cases, suitable recyclable things are not available. How can you recycle a printed circuit board (often epoxy glass or thermosetting paxolin), the components used, the semiconductors etc. I can sell you a cheap Pentium or Xeon processor or old types of memory if you find them useful, but Windows 10 isn't a lot of good using these. I still have some 16 kb RAMs somewhere from the 80's, they are not much use except as possibly hardcore in concrete. Can you change a 1000 pin BGA chip with any chance of success if it fails? I rather doubt it. One could blame technology but have you tried to recycle a wind turbine? All the same problems there, particularly the blades (tons of epoxy glass), or the power inverter? That is a problem for next year when we are guaranteed to have 300,000 of a 1MW size! Pigs may fly.
dcbwhaley
55 Posts
davezawadi (David Stone):
I assure you that it does, but in many cases, suitable recyclable things are not available. How can you recycle a printed circuit board (often epoxy glass or thermosetting paxolin), the components used, the semiconductors etc. I can sell you a cheap Pentium or Xeon processor or old types of memory if you find them useful, but Windows 10 isn't a lot of good using these. I still have some 16 kb RAMs somewhere from the 80's, they are not much use except as possibly hardcore in concrete. Can you change a 1000 pin BGA chip with any chance of success if it fails? I rather doubt it. One could blame technology but have you tried to recycle a wind turbine? All the same problems there, particularly the blades (tons of epoxy glass), or the power inverter? That is a problem for next year when we are guaranteed to have 300,000 of a 1MW size! Pigs may fly.

The computer industry is in many ways a special case because it is entirely dominated by a single company which insists on obsoleting perfectly good software systems every few years thus forcing users to buy new hardware.  Those components you mention would build into a useful computer

I couldn't change a 100pin BGA in my garage today but I have done so in the lab in the past.   The electronic kit I designed was expected to last long.  A project commissioned in 1985 was still running when I retired in 2010

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