US Researchers Develop a Zero Waste
Recycling Process for Mobile Phones
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a process to separate fibreglass and resin, the most commonly discarded parts of a mobile phone, which has brought them closer to their goal of developing a zero waste handset.
Almost 2 billion handsets are sold globally each year and because people tend to replace them every few years, they are a growing source of electronic waste.
The challenge that the researchers faced was breaking down the handsets into useful materials without harming the environment.
Most companies that recycle electronic waste focus on recovering metals like gold, silver, copper, metal, and palladium which can be easily made into other products. But the non-metal parts of the handsets such as fibreglass and resins which are commonly used in the circuit boards are often thrown away because they are less valuable and more challenging to process. The result is that they are put into incinerators or sent to landfill where hazardous compounds can leach into the groundwater, soil, and air.
Researchers from the University were determined to find a better way to recycle all the useful components of handsets, so they set about developing a new materials separation process that removed them without allowing hazardous chemicals to enter the environment.
A technique called gravity separation was used, which separates fibreglass from resin using their densities. The fibreglass can be used in construction and insulation, and even the production of new circuit boards.
The university is now looking into developing the technique on a commercial scale in partnership with a British Columbia based recycling company called Ronin8 that separates plastics, fibres, and metals from electronic waste streams without using harmful chemicals or wasting precious metals.
The company say that they want to address the faults that are inherent in the electronic waste recycling processes that exist today. They add that their aim is to come up with a zero waste recycling solution for all electronics, and that being involved in the development of a new environmentally friendly process for removing valuable materials from e-waste is a step in the right direction.