Improving the End-of-Life for Electronic Materials via Sustainable Recycling

Korzenski, Michael; Jiang, Ping
(ATMI, Danbury, CT)

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The production of electronic equipment such as computers, cell phones, TVs, etc. is one of the fastest growing global manufacturing activities. Unfortunately this results in substantial quantities of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE). In 2008, the US generated 3.16 million tons of e‐waste, and of this amount, only 430,000 tons or 13.6 % was recycled1. The remaining WEEE was sent to landfills, incinerators, or shipped overseas to “backyard” smelters. Globally, some 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of e‐waste are generated every year2. Rapid economic growth, coupled with urbanization and growing demand for consumer goods, has increased both the consumption of electronic equipment and the production of WEEE. This is a major source of hazardous wastes that poses a risk to the environment, human health and to sustainable economic growth. To address potential environmental problems stemming from improper management of WEEE, many countries and organizations have drafted national legislation to improve their reuse and recycling and to reduce the amount and types of materials disposed in landfills. Recycling of WEEE is important not only to reduce the amount of waste requiring treatment, but also to promote the recovery of valuable materials and to save natural resources needed to mine and extract new materials from the earth. Electronic waste is diverse and complex with respect to the materials and components used3, thus new technologies are needed for developing cost-effective and environmentally sound recycling systems. In this talk we will present novel processes/chemistries and enhanced process efficiencies based on green chemistry and green engineering methodologies for recycling waste electronic materials. We will demonstrate that one can recover metals and valuable components from end-of-life products using cost effective, sustainable, and scalable methods (e.g., systems that are closed loop, energy efficient, environmentally benign). This includes both chemical desoldering and precious metal reclaim with all metals recovered and resold. 1. “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste (EPA‐530‐F‐009‐021, November 2009. 2. Press Release, “Basel Conference Addresses Electronic Wastes Challenge.” November 27, 2006, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 3. For example, one ton of used mobile phones (~6,000 handsets, a tiny fraction of today’s 1 billion annual production) contains approximately 3.5 kg of silver, 340 grams of gold, 140 grams of palladium, and 130 kg of copper with a combined value of over US $15,000 at today’s prices (

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