Old Electronics Find New Purpose

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 11:28 PM


Electronic use around the world continues to increase at an astonishing rate. Unfortunately, this trend is accompanied by a much more disastrous one; the steady escalation of old and outdated electronics no one wants, termed e-waste. Circuit boards used in electronics contain high levels of pollutants, like toxic metals, making them extremely problematic to get rid of. Even when they are sent properly to recycling centers or workshops, the processes used sometimes only end up releasing more dangerous chemicals into the environment. One recycling workshop in China, a country that recycles a lot of e-waste from around the world, was the object of a study testing the chemical emission signatures created when recyclers heated circuit boards to remove electronic components. Emissions were significant enough to generate immediate concern for the workers and the people living in the area, as well as concern about how far these contaminants could travel once they were picked up by the wind.
While this type of information may be troubling, it has led a number of scientists to come up with new and inventive ways to safely recycle old electronics. Some scientists in China, for example, have figured out a new recycling method to quickly separate toxic metals from circuit boards, and use the resulting metal free powder as an additive to asphalt. When mixed with this powder, the resulting asphalt is said to lasts longer, and be better for the environment than the asphalt currently in use. Other possibilities for disposing of e-waste, being explored by scientists and researchers, include one method of recycling that results in oils that can be used as fuel, and another that results in a high-strength material good for constructing things, like park benches. The fact that old electronics are finding new purposes, brings hope that we will not end up eventually buried under a pile of our own e-waste.   

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