By Maddie Ferber
Earlier this month, NRC hosted a webinar on e-waste and recycling featuring Matt Weirman of Sadoff E-Recycling and Data Destruction, an e-waste recycling professional with 2 decades of experience in the industry. If you missed the webinar, you can view it in its entirety on our website, or Youtube.
E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the US, according to the EPA, with 50 millions tons per year being produced in the US alone. It only accounts for 2% of America’s trash in landfills, but accounts for 70% of overall toxic waste, containing hazardous materials like mercury, lead and cadmium.
Each year in the US $60 million worth of silver and gold are thrown away in cell phones alone. It’s estimated that E-waste is responsible for a loss of at least $57 billion annually through the disposal of raw materials like iron, copper, and gold. Only 12.5% of electronic waste is recycled globally.
The recycling industry is always changing and shifting, and that’s certainly no different in the world of e-waste. Over Matt’s 20 year career, he has seen some major change across the industry. When he began, there were few electronics recyclers, and no regulations on the process. Few companies worried about data security, something which now is an extremely important aspect of the work – and Matt stressed the importance of working with R2 and E-Steward certified companies.
One attendee asked how hazardous materials are managed for the safety of workers and the environment. Matt shared that mercury switches in circuit boards are still surprisingly common in the industry – although they have been phased out in production, older electronics still make their way into the waste and recycling streams. Even one of these mercury switches could contaminate a whole load – so they are sorted out and sent to an approved downstream facility. Radioactive materials are another issue they face, and loads are scanned by detectors as they are brought in. Any loads contaminated with radioactive materials are rejected. Although batteries are not currently considered hazardous waste, they are a hazard across the recycling industry and a prominent issue specifically in the electronics recycling industry. Careful management of batteries is extremely important, and Matt shared that “about 6 e-scrap facilities this year to date have literally burnt to the ground over lithium ion battery fires”.
Matt shared some photos and footage from one of their partner companies – Universal Recycling Technologies (URT), an end of life CRT TV and LCD monitor de-manufacturer. Items that go through this facility are first disassembled by hand, then fed into the belt system, a nearly 2 miles long trek over conveyor belts through shredders and a sink float system that separate plastics and metals. URT are able to shred and sort 6 different types of plastics and currently achieve a 70-80% recycle rate. Incredibly, they are on track to be at 95-100% domestic solution for plastics within 6 months.