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How Does E-Waste Get Recycled? The Recycling Process

- 4 minute read

Electrical or electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the EU. In 2021, 57.4 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated, which grew by 2 million metric tonnes annually. Of that amount, only 17.4% of e-waste is known to be collected and properly recycled. 

So how can this be tackled? In this article, we’ll take you through the e-waste recycling process, the steps involved and why it’s so important. Keep reading to find out more.


The Background On E-Waste

The European Commission (EC) classifies waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) as devices such as mobile phones, computers, TVs, kitchen appliances and electrical tools. 

As a result of the WEEE Directive implemented in 2003, all e-waste items can be taken to local recycling centres to be recycled free of charge to consumers. 

Despite this legislation, only a small proportion of electrical products purchased each year are recycled. With technological advances driving consumer investment into replacement tech, it has never been more critical to understand and utilise the e-waste recycling process.

Properly recycling these devices can significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment, which can cause air pollutants and damage the respiratory health of animals and humans. 

No one machine or method will effectively dispose of e-waste. Many resources and effectively managed facilities are required, yet the e-waste recycling process is relatively easy to understand. 


What Is the E-Waste Recycling Process?


1. Collection and Transport

The first step of e-waste recycling is collection and transport. Take-back booths and e-waste bins are placed in specific locations, which, when filled, will be collected and transported to approved authorised treatment facilities.


2. Shredding and Sorting

Having arrived at the reprocessing plants, the shredding and sorting process can begin. In shredding, each e-waste item is broken down into smaller pieces, after which they can be manually dismantled. Any dust extracted in this process is disposed of using environmentally-friendly methods. 

Items are then categorised into core materials and components – items that can be reused as they are and those that require further recycling. E-wastes are often manually sorted, except for fluorescent lighting, batteries and toner cartridges, which should not be shredded or crushed by hand. 

For example, lithium-ion batteries undergo intense shredding and hammer milling. This process allows electrolytes to evaporate and be captured as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are closely monitored to maintain safety levels. 


To learn more about the lithium-ion battery recycling process at TES, watch the video below.

Watch the Video


3. Mechanical Separation

Magnetic Separation

Once the materials have been shredded and sorted, a powerful overhead magnet will remove ferrous metals such as steel from non-ferrous metals such as aluminium. The separated steel materials are then prepared for sale as recycled steel.

Non-magnetic metals such as aluminium and copper are collected using electronic currents, leaving mostly plastic behind. 


Water Separation

Plastic and glass are further separated using water, purifying the materials. Part of this process will send items that contain glass to smelters to use in the production of batteries, x-ray tubes and new cathode ray tubes (CRTs). 

The plastic elements left over are sorted by various methods, including density separation or near infra-red sorting technology, which detects polymers in the plastics. 


4. Recovery

Once all that remains is raw material, such as glass, copper, plastics, and metals, these materials can be used to produce new electronics and other items. 

For example, the steel within recycled games consoles can be reused for car parts. Precious metals such as gold and silver in circuit boards can be recycled into jewellery or mobile phone components. 

With the digital world continually developing, new electronics will always be needed. However, continuing production at the cost of the environment is unsustainable. Implementing and understanding an effective e-waste recycling process can be the solution to reducing quickly-depleting natural resources.


What Is TES Doing To Help?

An effective e-waste recycling process will take us one step closer to creating a circular economy for electronic devices. Innovative green technologies can help to re-evaluate waste so that materials and components suitable for re-use are not lost.

The recycling facilities at TES use innovative techniques and pioneering technology to extract precious metals while preserving natural resources for minimal environmental impact. 

We are committed to being a global sustainability leader, with the aim of repurposing one billion kilograms of assets by 2030. 


Creating a Circular Economy in ICT

Creating a circular economy is a wise alternative to the overconsumption and waste in our current system. Understanding the process of recycling e-waste will only help to encourage taking part in the circular economy. 

To learn more about creating a circular economy in ICT, download our whitepaper by clicking the link below.

Creating a circular economy in ICT


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