To fully appreciate the value of e waste recycling, watch this video.

Do you know what e waste recycling looks like put to practice? In this brand-new video, you get to follow the journey of a laptop, from the point of manufacturing to raw material recovery.

You probably already have some understanding of where everyday items come from, but most of us are so far removed from the process that we might only have a rough idea for a lot of the products we use every day.

We know that metals are mined from the ground as ore. Plastic is manufactured using petroleum. And cardboard comes from trees. But in the case of a common e waste item like a laptop, there’s a lot more to it.  That’s where e waste recycling enters the picture. For your convenience, we’ve included the video script below.

What’s in a laptop?

A typical laptop computer has a circuit board manufactured from fiberglass and precious metals such as silver and gold. Various industries use copper, aluminum, and magnesium to create a chassis, distribute power, and manage heat. Any modern laptop will use lithium in the battery for energy storage. 

Plastic will likely make up the screen, keyboard, and outer shell. That’s a long list of resources and we haven’t even touched on packaging, instructions, or the resources involved in the logistics of delivering the product to the end-user.  

Eventually, the laptop makes it into the hands of the consumer, where its average functional life is somewhere between three and five years. Once that time is up, the consumer discards the laptop, and the cycle begins again. 

So, where does an e waste recycler fit into this scenario?

The truth is that an electronic recycler can play a crucial role in every step of a product life cycle long before the end-user makes the pivotal decision to have the laptop recycled with an e waste services provider. 

  • Before the manufacturing of a product begins, the e waste recycling process is already underway. Once the laptop goes into production, the manufacturer sends engineering samples, dies and specialized test equipment to an electrics recycler . 
  • During the manufacturing stage, the manufacturer sends products that don’t meet quality control standards to e waste along with excess parts and board trimmings, among other things. 
  • An electronic recycler plays a role in the distribution process as well. Units that are damaged in shipping, in-store demos, product returns and overstock can all be handled by an e-waste specialist. 
  • The last and most impactful step is when consumers make the crucial decision to send their laptops for recycling instead of throwing them out to ultimately end up in a landfill or worse. 

What happens when a laptop reaches end-of-life?

Now that we’ve spoken a little bit about the e waste life cycle, let’s get into what we do as an electronics recycler from the perspective of a laptop discarded at the end of its service life. 

First step: Collection

Our role begins with collection. We help to coordinate packing and shipping of the items that will be coming to us in the most efficient way possible to help reduce our carbon footprint. Once the equipment makes it through our doors, we tag and inventory everything in our system.  

Second step: Sorting

From there, we sort items into categorized streams to ensure that downstream recyclers handle each type of material appropriately. This is a large part of what an electronic recycler does behind the scenes, and it is at this stage that our laptop comes into the picture once discovered by our sorting team.

Third step: Data sanitization

As data-containing devices, we give the laptops special attention to ensure we remove and sanitize all data and storage devices. Now that we have cleared our laptop of any personal data, we have our first opportunity to complete the life cycle. 

Fourth step: Refurbish and repair

Items that are relatively new and free of heavy cosmetic or functional damage, we refurbish or repair and reintroduce back into the market whenever possible. We first consider reuse as it is the simplest and often most cost-effective form of recycling. Unfortunately, our laptop is beyond its usable life and is also physically damaged. It is effectively scrap at this point.  

Fifth step: Demanufacturing, sorting, processing

Scrap material that is not suitable for reuse, we dismantle into the basic components used to manufacture it. We de-manufactured our laptop by hand and sort it by the separated metals, boards, and plastics originally used to create it. Other items from the same load could be shredded, sheared, or otherwise processed into raw commodities using specialized equipment. 

Sixth step: Downstream recycling

Once we have collected enough of our processed raw materials, the next step ensues. We ship them to partner facilities that specialize in each specific commodity we have generated. For example, we send plastics to a plastics recycler who further segregates the materials for granulation. Metal yards take in metals like steel, aluminum, and copper which accumulate them in massive volumes.

The partner facilities then ship the materials to a smelter for refinement. The facilities ultimately turn the materials into ingots for use in future products. Specialized smelters take care of circuit boards that need thermal energy to recover the precious metals found in the circuits and components.  

Final word on e waste recycling

For all specialty recyclers, the end goal is the same. The goal is to create a clean raw material that they can sell back to restart the life cycle. Maybe our laptop’s plastic casing will become the bezel to a new smartphone, the metals could contribute to new electric vehicles, and the precious metals could find practical or ornamental use.

No matter the application, these efforts help to reduce our dependence on finite raw materials that industries need to harvest, refine, and ship at an increasing cost to our environment. Let’s make corporate electronic recycling the norm.

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