Closing loops in the circular economy: Recovery of an extended range of high-tech materials under research
There are a massive amount of electronic devices going onto the market today. Nearly 60 million televisions were sold in Europe last year alone. Sooner or later these devices will return as electronics waste. In the past years, the recycling industry has developed to recover many metals such as ferrometals, copper, aluminum, precious metals, along with some selected plastics from these devices, but currently ignores many other important materials. The recently launched €5.9million project, CloseWEEE, will facilitate recovery and re-use of these materials and ensure the electronics manufacturing and recycling industry plays a key role in the drive towards a circular economy.
The project brings together experts from across Europe. Disassembling of electronic devices will be facilitated through the development of an online Recycler Information Center by iFixit in cooperation with the D.R.Z – Dismantling and Recycling-Centre. Sound disassembly guides will be provided to assist workers on the disassembly line to dismantle electronic devices rapidly. Reusing of previously under-recovered high grade polymers, such as PC/ABS, and antimony compounds used as flame retardants, from electronics waste without the usual problematic quality compromises will be investigated by major TV manufacturer, TP Vision. Recycling of batteries for recovery of graphite and other materials will be addressed by recycling experts, Accurec through development of advanced staged recycling processes.
As part of the project, Exergy Ltd. will undertake industrial scale-up of the developed processes and facilitate future commercialisation of the developments in collaboration with the other project partners.
The CloseWEEE project is among the first projects to be launched under the latest European research programme, Horizon 2020.
New economy models are being created and set up in Europe since the EU’s circular economy package has been laid down and updated in December 2015. These new models are significantly different from the traditional “wear and tear” models, where resources do not return to the loop or are recycled.
In relation to the EU’s Circular Economy Package and aiming to make a better use of our planet’s resources, Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEEs) are key elements. Within these WEEE streams which includes phones, computers and TVs among others, are several valuable and expensive materials which are found in a few places on our planet and can be potentially recovered and reused, e.g. rare earths and metals. On the other hand, hazardous compounds both for human health and for the environment are also found. Both reasons are sufficient to address an effective and correct treatment when the end of life (EoL) is achieved in these electrical and electronic products.
Especially, two EU Directives have been set within the WEEE framework: the WEEE Directive (2012/19/EU) which introduces the schemes and targets for collection, recycling and recovery for all types of electrical goods and appliances. Also theRestriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) (2002/95/EC), which restricts the use of certain substances in E&E equipment.
The CloseWEEE project is in alignment with both EU Directives. Valuable materials such as plastics (PC/ABS, ABS), critical metals and additives among others are effectively recovered in this project and prepared for a second life. Circular economy scheme is achieved and the loop is closed.