Electronic waste recycling process is an area of interest for many manufacturers and environmentalists. Cell phones, personal music players, TV sets and computers are electronics that are often replaced with new products after three to four years of exploitation (Watson, 2009). Watson (2009) also notes that manufacturers can often make use of the broken electronics. They taking these electronics apart and use some of their pieces, such as batteries and circuit boards, to make the new products.
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Electronics collected for recycling may be reused or processed for parts or components. Luther (2010) mentions that, first of all, the device will require a certain level of sorting, inspection and testing. Luther (2010) noted that if a product is ultimately processed for parts or components, it needs to go through the various processing activities. Unlike recyclable products that essentially contain a single component, like plastic bottles or a newspaper, electronics devices contain a host of mixed materials that may not be easily separated or extracted.
Goldberg (2000) mentions that there are two primary technologies used in the electronic recycling process. The first is manual disassembly, and the second is destructive disassembly, or grinding. The manual disassembly incorporates hand tools and methodologies similar to product assembly. Goldberg (2000) also mentioned that this process is not synonymous with the reverse assembly. Labor costs in the disassembly process can be often minimized through the use of techniques such as shearing assemblies.
On the other hand, several electronic recyclers use alternative destructive disassembly method. The process involves grinding and shearing as a means of reducing the size of the products followed by any number of material separation methods (Goldberg, 2000). Once the product has been shredded, magnetic separation is used to reclaim ferrous materials. Goldberg (2000) noted that the main advantage of this destructive disassembly technique is that it minimizes labor costs. The disadvantage is that it tends to yield more contaminated materials and eliminates the potential for reuse of subassemblies, which can enhance total reclamation value.
Hester & Harrison (2009) argue that electronics can be recycled by repurposing redundant units and converting them into general purpose modules. It means that the devices can be used as core components in a wide range of applications such as those requiring smart sensing and telemetry capabilities. Thus, this process plays an important role, because it may be applicable to a number of sophisticated, high volume electronics products. Moreover, it offers interesting possibilities that avoid conventional disposal and recycling routes. Thus, it is worthy of further investigation (Hester & Harrison, 2009).
However, Scott, Lundgren & Thompson (2011) noted that the main challenge in the electronic recycling process is to be successful both from ecological as well as economic perspective. What is more, the economic profit from remanufacturing and recycling electronics has not yet been yielded for many consumer products due to the high labor cost for dismantling, little automation, and lack of recycled material markets.
Before a device can be recycled, it should go through a number of steps such as remanufacturing into subassemblies and components, de-pollution, materials separation, mechanical processing of similar materials and mixed materials, and, finally, metal refining and smelting (Luther, 2010). Many of the processes mentioned above must be done by hand and can be labor intensive. Luther (2010) argues that this can be also a costly operation. Therefore, depending on the value of the commodities being extracted from the electronic devices among other factors, a recycler may find it more profitable simply to send all the e-waste abroad, where labor is less costly. However, health and safety practices may not be implemented when extracting hazardous materials or precious metals (Luther, 2010).
In conclusion, it is important to note that while the legitimate operations of recycling process exist in the developed countries, the outright prohibits on exports may be problematic, due to the limited opportunities for recycling. Moreover, a high cost of domestic recycling, high demand for exports, and lack of barriers to export will continue to drive the reuse and recycling of electronic devices to the foreign markets. a
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