The collection of electrical and electronic waste grows year by year all over the world, a clear sign that their management, from a marginal point of view, is taking on the contours of a serious problem due to the exponential increase in the materials to be disposed, often dangerous, components that can represent a real mine of precious metals.
These must therefore be disposed with a specific procedure which avoids devastating environmental damage and allows recycling instead.
Electronic waste or WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment), internationally referred to as e-waste, are what remains of the electrical and electronic equipment that has been used and then discarded: smartphones, computers, printers, fax machines, televisions, video cameras, electrical appliances and toys and many other everyday electric tools.
Given the rapid progress of technology, everyday products are sometimes replaced even after a few months, although still functional, quickly generating large quantities of electronic waste.
The risks for the environment and for health, due to incorrect disposal or abandonment of these wastes, are very high as an uncontrolled dispersion of substances such as mercury and chlorofluorocarbons are generated, which are toxic and polluting.
A correct recycling of WEEE, through the recovery of materials such as glass, copper, aluminum, steel, iron and other metals, allows to produce new appliances without having to find new resources and with a minimal impact on the environment as, after all the processing procedures envisaged, we obtain finished and semi-finished materials that can be used in the industrial market for processing and production purposes.
Reduce greenhouse gases and pollution, because the contained substances are safely eliminated.
Recover raw materials, because aluminum, glass, copper, plastic can be largely recycled for more than 90 percent of their weight.
To avoid the common problems of traditional treatment processes, we have opted for a vacuum system capable of finely shredding each component of the WEEE and, at the same time, capturing any gaseous emissions and recovering any liquid part.
Some metals will be isolated after the shredding phases as well as the collected and insulated plastic components can be transferred to another plant that deals with treating this type of material or placed in an apparatus suitable for energy recovery.
In addition, the glass will be removed beforehand by means of vibrating sieves and insulated to be recycled.
The matrices remainder, on average a variable mass around 20/25% of what was initially entered, is inserted in a special plasma oven specifically designed for the recovery of precious metals and rare earths. The plasma arcs contain an extremely hot but rather small region positioned in front of the electrode tip, produced in Italy by one of our partners, and specifically designed for the processing and recovery of precious metals.
The entire system is fully integrated in BIOZIMMI and each module is capable of processing about thirty tons of incoming WEEE per day, or about six tons per day of parts containing precious metals and rare earths.
The inorganic fraction becomes completely inert and forms a vitrified material. Then, pouring from the reactor in molten form (lava), it cools down solidifying in a material that can be shaped and used for useful purposes without environmental risks such as:
- road or rail surface;
- floor tiles;
- common objects (souvenirs, statues, etc.).
The extremely fast thermal reaction and the treatment at extremely high temperatures allow the total destruction of toxic organic compounds and the overall vitrification and encapsulation of any compound. Atmospheric emissions do not occur due the application of our systems.
By way of example, in 2017 only a total of 296,000 tons of WEEE were collected in Italy, which is equivalent to about 5 kg per inhabitant, with enormous benefits that the Planet derives from simple conscious behavior. In reality, however, the WEEE produced in this country are more than 4 times and touch the million tons.
Worldwide, in 2014 an estimated 41,800,000 tons of WEEE were produced.
In Switzerland, the Office of Wastes and Polluted Sites in collaboration with the Cantonal Office of Statistics publishes the results of the waste census annually and in 2017 it emerged that the Canton of Ticino alone disposed of 1,170 tons of WEEE against further 3,851 tons sent for disposal to inland Switzerland. This implies that in the year 2017 alone approximately 5,021 tons of WEEE were produced.
The dimensions of the plant to be built are around 1,971 tons per year, therefore, the treatable matrices are more than abundant and available already in the Canton Ticino alone, leaving out the huge potential markets of northern Switzerland (Zurich and Basel in the first place) and Northern Italy (Lombardy in the first place).
In addition, the plant torch can also treat catalytic converters, given that it shows that the potential market to which it is addressed is practically infinite and devoid of significant competition.
The transition from fossil fuels to electricity will also make this industrial installation even more competitive than disposal plants using traditional technologies, as this plant was created to manage the disposal of batteries, storage systems and recovery of metals from WEEE and will not have to therefore undergo adaptations of any kind.
just an example: 96% of the materials that make up a mobile phone can be easily recycled.
The internal circuits of the mobile phone, for example, contain 10 grams of copper. Reused, it is used to produce electric cables, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and car parts.
The liquid crystal screen hides 1 gram of rare earth, precious and little known metals: cerium, lanthanum, terbium and dysprosium, etc ... They are very expensive, as well as rare, and once recovered they can be reused in the production circuits of equipment high tech or to make battery screens.
In the internal circuits there is no lack of gold: 0.024 grams, which is used in jewelry or resold in the form of ingots. And 11 grams of iron can be recovered from the card, to be supplied to the steel industry and to companies that produce materials
for flooring. Also on the card there are 0.30 grams of silver: it can be recycled for medical ointments, in jewelry and in the metallurgical industry. Finally, the battery contains 3.5 grams of cobalt and 0.6 of lithium, to be used to make new batteries. And 50 percent of a cell phone is plastic, equal to 65 grams, which, once recycled, has a second life in the building industry in the form of pipes and sheaths.
Normally, decommissioned WEEE, after being collected and transferred to the treatment platforms, undergo a series of transformation operations in order to obtain components or materials capable of reuse and correctly dispose of any dangerous components or substances.
- safety or remediation, or removal of dangerous components
- disassembly of sub-assemblies and preliminary separation of materials
- mechanical processing for the recovery of materials.
Thanks to the treatment, recycling and recovery phases, it is possible, in fact, to obtain secondary raw materials that can be reused in the production cycle of other goods.
Fangxing Yang, a researcher at the University of Zehjiang, has decided to try to understand if the air surrounding Taizhou, one of the largest disposal plants in China, is harmful to health, and above all, to what extent. During the disposal processes, in fact, organic compounds and heavy metals are released into the atmosphere; breathing contaminated air, these pollutants can accumulate in the body leading to many health problems, including public ones. Yang therefore collected air samples around the plant, to then purify the pollutants present and then put them in contact with human lung cells, then analyzing the effects of the substances on the production of interleukin-8 (an inflammation mediator), on the formation of oxidative damage to cells and on the levels of the p53 gene, involved in the development of tumors.
The results were very clear: inflammation and oxidative stress increase as well as p53 levels due to all the pollutants examined. All of these factors can cause DNA damage, mutations, cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Absolutely prohibited, Yang explains, the outdoor disposal of such waste, and inadequate protection of workers in the treatment and disposal plants.
Therefore, traditional disposal and recovery systems could be dangerous for the health not only of operators but also of those who live or work near them.
To prevent WEEE from being dispersed in the environment or disposed of incorrectly, the European Union has issued a specific directive (for example in Italy it was implemented and converted into a decree-law in 2005, subsequently updated in 2014).
The current legislation provides simple and effective tools for the correct disposal of electrical and electronic waste:
- transfer to a municipal collection center, or ecological island;
- you can take advantage of the “One on One” service, whereby when you buy a new electrical or electronic product, you are legally entitled to collect the old product;
- or from July 22, 2016 you can use the “One against zero” service which allows all citizens to deliver their WEEE waste, even small ones, to collection centers at electronics stores with a sales area above 400 sq m.