ban 3 china burning long ENThe volumes of “electro(nic)” waste increase steadily. This waste contains approximately 20% plastics, mainly high impact polystyrene (HIPS) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

The addition of flame retardants (mainly brominated organic compounds, which can decompose through thermal treatment - also when being extruded - to highly toxic reaction products) prohibits the classical plastic recycling through a melt process (re-granulation), because it would increase the decomposition reactions.

This is why approximately 70% of the electronic waste of Europe and the USA is exported to China, because there "High-Tech" recycling and energy recovery is possible without any regulation from authorities.

In Germany every year approximately 50.000 metric tons plastic waste have to be incinerated at high cost - because they contain only 250 g of toxic reaction products.elektroschrott.jpg

Since 1993 Europe has addressed this issue by using only brominated flame retardants, which don’t create high dioxane/furane concentrations. Unfortunately this proactive effect is destroyed by electro/electronic imports from Far East, because those still favour and use problematic flame retardants. Plastic waste collectors are not able to distinguish between European and Asian produced material, and therefore these plastics require incineration at increasing cost.

Today the shrinking metal content in electronic equipments starts hurting the European recycling industry because non-ferrous heavy metal recycling is their main income and they still lack a technology to cope with the increasing masses of plastics.

The  Dilemma
The European WEEE Directive 2002/96/EC specifies minimum recovery and recycling limits of 50 – 70% for appliances depending on their category (Art. 7, Para. 2), but specifically excludes energy recovery  through direct incineration (Art. 3e). Member states shall also ensure a selective treatment of plastics containing brominated flame retardants (Art. 6, Para. 1 and Annex II). 
How can one achieve such ambitious goals for plastics from electro(nic) appliances, if recycling technologies are not available yet and recovery technologies as described in Directives 75/442/EEC and 2006/12/EC may be applicable for metals but don’t offer a reasonable approach for plastics? Labtops, mobile phones and game pads are no washing machines with high metal content and the high plastic content of these categories of appliances is a real stumbling block for high recycling quota. 
May be this is the reason for the export of electro(nic) waste under false label of „second-hand-goods“.

Especially here the CreaSolv® Process of the Fraunhofer Institute IVV and the CreaCycle GmbH is the method of choice, because flame retardants and their toxic reaction products remain in the CreaSolv® Formulation. The latter can be isolated and sent to a separate waste-handling. Possible concentrations of remaining flame-retardants or toxic reaction products are far below the permitted limits.

If the goal is to behave both in an economically and ecologically responsible manner (incineration = CO2 = “Green House” effect) this is the right direction, because the resulting recycled material has similar mechanical properties with the virgin material.

Important Guidelines:
The new European Directive 2002/96/EC is in effect since February 13, 2003 and aimed at limiting the volume of electro(nic) waste (WEEE– waste electrical and electronic equipment). This Directive had to be transposed into national law by EU member states by August 13, 2004.
Today producers have to take back electro and electronic equipment and send them to recyclers to achieve mimum levels of 70 - 80% for recovery and 50 - 70% for recycling.
Download:  EU Directive 2002/96/EC - WEEE 
                ICER - Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling

More information:

  • IVV Annual Report 2004/2005 (extract) – link pdf
  • CreaCycle Flyer on 11 January 2004 - Recycling of Mobile Phones - download
  • Der CreaSolv®-Prozess – Technical break-through in Plastic Recycling from Electro Waste – PlasTicker 22 April 2004   (von press/news) link
  • Good as new - Recycling plastics from WEE and packaging wastes - Waste Management World May-June 2004 - link pdf
  • Recycling of styrene polymers from shredded screen housings containing brominated flame retardants – Journal of Applied Polymer Science, Vol. 102, Issue 2, pages 1262-1273, 15 October 2006 link pdf  
  • Frost & Sullivan Research Service – 24 March 2006 – Advances in Electronic Waste Recovery - link pdf
  • IVV Annual Report 2006/2007 (extract) – link pdf