Electronic waste is currently the fastest growing item in the municipal solid waste stream as more people get access to technology and update their existing phones, TVs, and video-game consoles. Recycling your electronics is important not only because they are made of valuable minerals, but also because they contain components that can be hazardous if they are disposed of in a landfill or are incinerated. Most electronics that we consume are energy, water, and resource intensive making is even more crucial to recover them at the end of their useful life.
Join me on the journey that one Playstation takes after it has been properly disposed of in the United States!
- After the worn-out Playstation is collected, it will be sent to a local electronics recycler. The electronics recycler will inspect the Playstation to see if it can be repaired or refurbished and then resold. If otherwise, it will be dissembled to remove any batteries.
- Batteries are shipped to a battery recycler where they are melted in a furnace to recover the metals they contain, including cadmium, nickel, copper, and lead. These metals can then be used to make new batteries.
- After taking out the batteries, other components, like circuit boards, may also be removed. Circuit boards contain precious metals like gold.
- The Playstation is then sent to a shredder where it is shredded into small pieces.
- The different types of plastics, glass, wires, and metals are sorted using a combination of magnets, eddy current separators, metal sensors and optical sorters.
- The various materials are then baled and sold on the secondary materials commodities market, which puts them back in a position for re-manufacturing.
America’s Privilege: It’s important to note that most electronic waste ends up at international destinations to be recycled, with rural Asia taking the majority of the cake. Oftentimes, the recycling yards in Asia are poor and use crude recycling methods to extract or refurbish the electronic devices. Researchers have found some of the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world in these regions due to their e-waste industry.
In 2014, the Chinese government enacted a “Green Fence” policy to prevent e-waste from the United States to move across the border, which has simply opened up harmful electronics recycling in other third world countries.