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Trends in disposal and recycling
In the 1990s some European countries banned the disposal of electronic waste in landfills. This created an e-waste processing industry in Europe.
In Switzerland the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991 beginning with collection of old refrigerators. Over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. Legislation followed in 1998 and since January 2005 it has been possible to return all electronic waste to the sales points and other collection points free of charge. There are two established PROs (Producer Responsibility Organizations): SWICO mainly handling electronic waste and SENS mainly responsible for electrical appliances. The total amount of recycled electronic waste exceeds 10 kg per capita per year.
The European Union has implemented a similar system under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE 2002/96/EC). The WEEE Directive has now been transposed in national laws in all member countries of the European Union. The WEEE directive was designed to make equipment manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their equipment at its end-of-life under a policy known as extended producer responsibility (EPR). EPR was seen as a useful policy as it internalized the end-of-life costs and provided a competitive incentive for companies to design equipment with less costs and liabilities when it reached its end-of-life. However the application of the WEEE directive has been criticized for implementing the EPR concept in a collective manner and thereby losing the competitive incentive of individual manufacturers to be rewarded for their green design. Since 13 August 2005, the electronics manufacturers became financially responsible for compliance to the WEEE directive. Under the directive, by the end of 2006 – and with one or two years' delay for the new EU members – every country has to recycle at least 4 kg of e-waste per capita per year.
Some states in recent years in the US developed policies banning CRTs from landfills due to the fear that the heavy metals contained in the glass would eventually leach into groundwater. Circuit boards also contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders and are even more likely to leach into groundwater or become air pollution if managed in an incinerator. Indeed, a policy of "diversion from landfill" has been the driver for legislation in many states requiring higher and higher volumes of e-waste to be collected and processed separate from the solid waste stream. Today the e-waste recycling business is in all areas of the developed world a big and rapidly consolidating business. Unfortunately, increased regulation of e-waste and concern over the environmental harm which can result from toxic e-waste has raised disposal costs. This has had the unforeseen effect of providing brokers and others calling themselves recyclers with an incentive to export the e-waste to developing countries. This form of toxic trade was first exposed by the Basel Action Network (BAN)in their 2002 report and film entitled "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia". Exporting Harm placed a spotlight on the global dumping of electronic waste, primarily from North America on a township area of China known as Guiyu. To this day in Guiyu, thousands of men, women and children are employed, in highly polluting, primitive recycling technologies, extracting the metals, toners, and plastics from computers and other e-waste. Because the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or the Basel Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste, BAN estimates that about 80% of the e-waste directed to recycling in the US does not get recycled there at all but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China. High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health by Elizabeth Grossman [Island Press, 2006, 2007.]
In developed countries, e-waste processing usually first involves dismantling the equipment into various parts — metal frames, power supplies, circuit boards, and plastics — which are separated, often by hand. Alternatively, material is shredded, and sophisticated expensive equipment separates the various metal and plastic fractions, which then are sold to various smelters and or plastics recyclers. From 2004 the state of California introduced a Electronic Waste Recycling Fee on all new monitors and televisions sold to cover the cost of recycling. The amount of the fee depends on the size of the monitor. That amount was adjusted on July 1, 2005 in order to match the real cost of recycling. Canada has also begun to take responsibility for electronics recycling. For example, in August of 2007 a fee similar to the one in California was added to the cost of purchasing new televisions, computers, and computer components in British Columbia. The new legislation made recycling mandatory for all of those products.
A typical electronic waste recycling plant as found in some industrialized countries combines the best of dismantling for component recovery with increased capacity to process large amounts of electronic waste in a cost effective-manner. Material is fed into a hopper, which travels up a conveyor and is dropped into the mechanical separator, which is followed by a number of screening and granulating machines. The entire recycling machinery is enclosed and employs a dust collection system. The European Union, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have already demanded that sellers and manufacturers of electronics be responsible for recycling 75% of them.
Many Asian countries have legislated, or will do so, for electronic waste recycling.
The United States Congress is considering a number of electronic waste bills including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). This bill has continually stalled, however.
In the meantime, several states have passed their own laws regarding electronic waste management. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota. More recently, legislatures in Oregon and Texas passed their own laws.
List of substances contained in electronic waste
Substances in bulk
Elements in bulk
Elements in small amounts
Elements in trace amounts (alphabetical)
Americium, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, europium, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, lithium, manganese, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, silver, tantalum, terbium, thorium, titanium, vanadium, and yttrium.
List of example applications of the above elements and substances
Almost all electronics contain lead and tin (as solder) and copper (as wire and PCB tracks), though the use of lead-free solder is now spreading rapidly.
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