weee Collection Point
MODULE 03
E-Recycling Benefits
Estimated time to complete the module:
45 minutes
Overview

Introduction

In this section, you will learn about the relevant practices, innovative processes and concrete examples about the potential of using e-waste to encourage a circular economy.

The Potential of E-waste in a Circular Economy

By improving e-waste collection and recycling practices worldwide, a considerable amount of secondary raw materials – precious, critical, and non-critical – could be made readily available to re-enter the manufacturing process while reducing the continuous extraction of new materials. 

The demand for iron, aluminium, and copper for the production of new electronics in 2019 was approximately 39 million tonnes. Even in an ideal scenario in which all the iron, copper, and aluminium resulting from e-waste (25 million tonnes) are recycled, the world demand will still require 14 million tonnes of materials.  
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In a circular economy, more value is created in the ‘inner loops’, as the value and utility in the products and components are preserved. Although the level of component reuse across the industry today is largely unexplored, there are concrete examples of companies doing this, opening the door for value to be cascaded, as electronic items are reused in multiple different applications.

Recycling is still part of the picture, and it is vital that constituent materials can be separated and processed when products and components are no longer used. There is increasing momentum in technologies that enable higher yields and quality of material recovery in these ‘outer loops’.
Closed-loop recycling

In a circular system, the ultimate goal is to set up a system whereby material is reused for the same product over and over again – for example, plastics collected and processed from computers are processed and used in computers again. This is the crucial difference between recycling and circulation; recycling currently means value loss (in terms of leakage and quality) and often the recycled material is lower quality, thus ending up in a lower quality product. Circulation, instead, aims for maintaining value over multiple lifecycles. Regarding the multitude of different plastic types, a closed-loop system removes the challenge of unknown plastic types. The example below from Dell explains this concept. 
03. Dell's closed-loop recycling process
Criticality and recycling: the case of cobalt 

Cobalt, which is used in lithium batteries, plays a crucial role in the transition to electric mobility. Demand for electric mobility is set to increase in the coming years, and so will the demand for cobalt. This is why we need to ensure that there is enough cobalt available to supply battery manufacturing. Luckily cobalt can come from primary mining but also from recycling the appliances that already contain this element and that are currently sat in our houses: this is urban mining. 

Video: Recycle gold from electronic devices. E-waste recycling scrap components connectors circuit Boards

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Video: Incineration Of Waste & Electricity

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Downloads

Quiz

Congratulations! You just completed Module 3! Test what you have learned by taking a short quiz. Each question has one possible answer. Once you finish the quiz, you can move on to the next module.

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INVITE OTHERS TO LEARN ABOUT WEEE
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What is an important reason for establishing Circular Economy for e-waste?

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How are the hazardous materials in the e-waste disposed of?

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Which is the negative effect of refrigeration gases used in fridges and freezers?

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How can the consumers contribute to a circular economy?

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Which of the following is not an industry action to accelerate the transition towards a Circular Economy?

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What is the main benefit of Dell’s closed loop strategy?

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What is cobalt used for?

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Which material can be extracted from Printed Circuit Board?

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Downloads: Teaching materials for classroom use

If you are a teacher and have decided to explore this topic with your classroom, then you have come to the right place! In this space, you will find ideas on how to prepare e-waste lessons. Additional suggestions for learning targets have also been uploaded and they include:

  • Lesson timeline

  • Topics to be taught

  • Group exercises

The topics introduced here can intersect with chemistry, geography, and other science classes (e.g. environmental education).

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