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End-of-life rules breathe life into electronics recycling

Newly enacted end-of-life regulations coupled with consumer electronics scrap projected to grow from two billion units this year to nearly 10 billion by 2010, and computer product scrap forecast to expand from 500 million to nearly two billion units over the same time frame, are bringing increased focus to reclaim technologies for scrap electronics.

A new report from Frost & Sullivan (New York) looks at the latest technology to reclaim valuable metals and plastics from computers, mobile phones, printers, scanners, fax machines, and similar products, without releasing airborne toxins like dioxins and furans through incineration or allowing lead, arsenic, and chromium seep into groundwater through land filling.

Regulatory pressure to recycle electronics from rulings like WEEE, RoHS, Waste Acceptance Criteria, and EuP, as well as the desire to retrieve high-value plastics and precious and ferrous metals without releasing lead from cathode-ray tubes, halogenated flame retardants in plastics, and mercury in things like fluorescent lights, for example, are increasing interest in new reclaim technologies.

In terms of emerging technologies, the Frost study highlights MBA Polymer''s flake sorting technology, which has already been applied in the U.S. by the company, and in Europe and Asia through partnerships, on an industrial scale. Also in the U.S., MaSeR Corp.''s delamination process is gaining acceptance, especially since it ensures complete and secure data destruction.

In Europe, the Fraunhofer Institute''s collaboration with WRAP from the U.K. on the Creasolv technology has proven effective at dissolving brominated flame retardants using solvents to separate them from e-waste for reuse in the bromine industry. The final e-waste product only has .1% flame-retardant content, meeting RoHS standards and allowing the plastic to be reused in electronics products.

Germany''s MeWa Recycling has developed patented QZ technology, which uses large shredding machinery to handle e-waste on an industrial scale. Veridium Corp. out of New Jersey has created a tornado generator that uses compressed air to grind metal and plastic into micrometer-sized particles, which allows for easier separation of metals from plastics. Startech Environmental Corp. from Connecticut has a Plasma Waste Converter, which can handle e-waste mingled with solid municipal waste, a common scenario for land-filled electronics.

One continuing issue with waste items like mobile phones is removal of paint from the (often PC/ABS) housings. Advances in thermoplastic paint films, which could be reclaimed with the substrate, could obviate the need for expensive, and sometimes ineffectual, paint-removal processes.

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