Electronic scrap (WEEE), also referred to as technological waste or e-waste, is any discarded electronic device that has a battery or plug, i.e. requires electrical current to operate. These products that have already been used can be refurbished, resold, disposed of or recycled through recovery.
The areas that create the most e-waste per person are the United States and the European Union, with emerging countries also increasingly creating this type of scrap metal. The spread of technology and consumer society means that the creation of e-scrap is huge, and much of this e-waste ends up in poorer countries. Ghana, for example, has become the largest dumping ground for e-scrap.
Types of electronic scrap
WEEE can be classified into the following groups:
- Temperature exchange appliances (refrigerators, freezers, heat pumps, oil radiators...).
- Monitors, screens and devices with a screen surface of more than 100 cm2 (screens, televisions, computers...).
- Lamps (LED lamps, straight and compact fluorescent lamps, etc.).
- Large appliances (external dimensions greater than 50 cm) (washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, cookers, etc.).
- Small appliances (no external dimensions greater than 50 cm) (hoovers, toasters, light fittings, etc.).
- Small computer and telecommunication devices (no external dimensions greater than 50 cm) (mobile phones, GPS, calculators, printers, etc.).
- Large photovoltaic panels (with an external dimension greater than 50 cm).
Electronic scrap is one of the most important areas of recycling because of the amount of waste and the important second life it can have. However, recycling is not the only option for this waste. It can also be utilised through these processes:
- Repair: many WEEEs could be reused if some of their components were repaired.
- Re-use: many appliances are discarded because new models are available, but could still be used.
- Destruction: sometimes the components of e-waste cannot be recycled, so it must be destroyed, if possible in a sustainable way.
If such waste is eventually destroyed, it is treated for recycling in plants designed for this purpose. However, only around 20% of electronic scrap is recycled correctly, with the result that much of this waste ends up in landfills without being responsibly recycled. Therefore, if not properly managed, it can cause irreparable damage to health as some electronic components contain harmful materials such as lead, beryllium or cadmium.
The WEEE recycling process is carried out as follows:
- Dismantling: disassembling the waste because there are different components and they cannot be recycled at the same time.
- Decontamination: the materials have to be decontaminated so that no material remains that could contain contaminating waste.
- Shredding: Special machines are in charge of shredding the waste so that it can be sorted and used more easily.
- Sorting: it is classified into ferrous or non-ferrous metals, plastic or glass waste. Each of these will follow its own recycling process.
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