Between 1992 and 2000 Canadians disposed of enough personal computers to fill about 1,000 Olympic sized swimming pools; unfortunately, only 10 per cent of these computers were recycled. The amount is expected to double to an estimated 72,000 tonnes in 2005.
The increasing volume of end-of-life electronics (or “e-waste”) — and the hazards associated it — has led to studies such as Environment Canada’s 2000 report IT and Telecom Waste in Canada, and Canada’s electronics and information technology (IT) industry is working to recover and recycle more of this potentially lucrative waste stream. (See sidebar.)
In the absence of federal or provincial legislation, certain industry leaders are seizing the potential business opportunity.
For example, Noranda Recycling recently opened a one-of-a-kind electronics recycling facility that will process approximately one million pounds (or about 500,000 kilograms) a month of electronics after ramp-up. The plant will recycled materials from many sources across the country, including electronics equipment manufacturers (Hewlett-Packard, etc), plus business, governments and municipalities.
“We’re proud that virtually 100 per cent of all electronic hardware that enters the facility will be diverted from landfill and recycled,” says Plant Manager Cindy Thomas.
New Canadian facility
On August 18, 2003 — almost one year after MAXUS Technology Inc. opened its e-waste recycling facility in Rimbey, Alberta in September — the Noranda facility opened in Brampton, Ontario. Capital investment to date is approximately $3-million.
The plant accepts computers and peripherals as well as office equipment materials that include network hardware, tape drives, disk drives, modems, CD and DVD ROMs, CD writers, circuit board as well as copiers, mainframes, workstations, cellular phones, calculators, audio/video equipment, video recorders, pagers, typewriters, telephones, fax machines, wireless devices, printers, and plotters.
With more than 50 years experience in the recycling industry, Noranda is a major recycler of electronics “waste” materials including secondary copper, nickel and precious metals (gold, silver, platinum), and lead. (See sidebar.)
The recycling process includes an initial weigh-in and designation of a bar code. Certain materials such as batteries, cathode ray tubes, mercury bulbs, and toner cartridges are removed at ergonomically-designed sorting stations.
The materials that remain are then shredded, using a Shred Tech unit. Materials are separated into various fractions of scrap metal and fines, then further separated using a vibrating conveyor and shaker table. Cross-belt magnets separate fines and steel. At this point, approximately, 40 per cent of materials are effectively separated. Then an eddy current and sand flow unit further separates aluminum from copper and plastics according to certain density parameters (aluminum flies off the belt the fastest).
Hazardous materials — including cathode ray tubes, which consist of lead — can pose significant processing challenges. According to Ms. Thomas, Noranda’s recycling system separates the plastic tube (which is sent to a smelter), the glass (which is re-used at the facility as a fluxing agent) and lead (which is also recovered for reuse). CRTs are becoming obsolete but are expected to be in the waste stream for at least another 20 years.
Batteries and ink cartridges are recycled and waste plastics are re-used as fuel.
The process discharges waste air to a baghouse, then to a HEPA filter prior to atmospheric release at a volumetric flow rate of 11.4 cubic metres per second.
Four people manage the process per shift (one shift per day) and the entire cycle is monitored by camera and altered via automated controls. An indicator panel alerts staff as of any malfunction.
It costs approximately 90 cents per kilogram to process the electronics materials.
Cindy Thomas encourages manufacturers to perform due diligence to make sure e-recycling facilities maintain high environmental, health and safety standards. Her staff use personal protective gear such as gloves, special eye-wear and respirators when needed and attend regular training sessions.
It will be interesting to see how facilities such as Noranda’s help tip the scales in favour of e-recycling in the years to come.
(Also see “Computer Crash” in the October/November 2002 edition.)
Connie Vitello is editor of this magazine.
Noranda Inc., the parent company, provides a network of companies that re-use and redistribute materials. The Canadian copper and recycling business units consists of the Horne custom copper smelter in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, the CCR copper and precious metals refinery in Montreal, Quebec, Falconbridge’s Kidd Creek mine, and the metallurgical division in Timmins, Ontario.
In 1996, leading electronics manufacturer Hewlett-Packard (HP) selected Noranda Recycling Inc. (formerly Micro Metallics Corporation) to develop a one-of-a-kind process that evaluates incoming equipment, re-deploys working equipment, extracts parts for re-use, and recycles remaining products and components.
Together, HP and Noranda operate two U.S. facilities where this process takes place. Approximately 15 per cent (150,000 tonnes) of the raw material feed for Noranda’s primary Canadian copper and recycling operations is from recyclable materials. Gross value of recyclable raw materials was $328-million in 2001. The Brampton facility is the third to provide this unique e-waste recycling process.
LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK (OR LACK THEREOF)
Electronics Product Stewardship Canada (EPS Canada) is developing a national electronics end-of-life program in Canada. As a not-for-profit organization, EPS Canada is working with an array of partners and stakeholders to design, promote and implement sustainable solutions to manage Canada’s growing electronic waste problem. The founding members of EPS Canada are 16 leading electronics manufacturers.
“Our national action plan reflects experience from our member companies, consultants experienced in the field, and programs that have been introduced for electronics in other countries,” says Dave Betts, president of EPS Canada. The group is currently consulting with governments, municipalities, recyclers and other stakeholders in Canada to refine the plan, which Mr. Betts hopes to implement as soon as 2004.
EPS will soon announce a town hall style meeting to be held in October. At this public meeting, key issues will be raised, including the provincial and territorial deliverables of collection depots and where to roll out the program first. In addition, EPS will restate key principles. Says Mr. Betts: “One of our key principles as we move forward is to remain flexible with the details of the plan and the process for implementation.”
The plan will establish environmental handling fees across the country for each major electronics product line, and national reporting to ensure transparency and accountability. EPS will determine an environmental handling fee of between $5 and $25 for the various products. These fees will be collected nationally and redistributed to provincial or regional organizations to manage local recycling. New provincial backdrop regulations will level the playing field and require participation from all companies.
In Ontario, the Ministry of the Environment is expected to pass Bill 90 in 2004. The law requires industry to pay for 50 per cent of the province’s Blue Box curbside recycling program — to be funded almost entirely by larger brand-owners and not the newspaper industry, requiring manufacturers to weigh their packaging and pay fees to Stewardship Ontario. Industry experts expect e-waste to be designated as a special waste sooner than later.
South of the border, the State Recycling Laws Update reports that there were 52 state e-waste bills in 26 state hoppers as of June 2003. While no state has
actually passed a “take-back” bill for electronics yet, there has been movement in Maine, Minnesota, California, New York, as well as a new bill in Pennsylvania.