How does electronic waste get recycled?
The life cycle of electronics and electrical equipment (EEE) does not end when they stop working.
If recycled properly, the precious metals found in electronic waste can go towards new EEE products.
Discarded consumer electronics such as mobile phones, for instance, contain small amounts of precious and rare earth metals such as gold and silver.
Scrapped cars and home appliances such as fridges and air conditioners also contain these rare metals, along with base metals of iron and zinc.
In Singapore, there are several e-waste recycling initiatives for consumers.
StarHub, for instance, partners recycling company Tes-Amm and logistics company DHL Delivery to place 328 specialised recycling bins in 277 locations under its Renew programme.
Singtel has recycling bins placed at three of its shops for consumers to discard their used gadgets.
Under the Project Homecoming initiative led by Canon and Epson, those with ink and toner cartridges can also drop them off at selected National Library Board locations.
Once collected, the e-waste is sorted, labelled and dismantled according to their types - wires, LCD screens, hard disks and more.
Measures, such as demagnetising hard disks, are taken to ensure data security.
The e-waste is then exported to countries equipped to separate the metals through chemical processes.
Once extracted, the metals are used in the manufacture of new products.
Why recycle e-waste?
When electronic waste is not disposed of properly, both the environment and public health suffer.
This is because e-waste is very heterogeneous, National University of Singapore's Associate Professor Tong Yen Wah explained.
Apart from being made up of many types of components and materials, discarded electronics are also assembled in many ways, from simple devices like batteries to complex ones like smartphones.
"All of these make e-waste very difficult to handle and recycle, and if their disposal is not done properly, these materials can get out and be circulated in the environment," said the co-director of NUS' Energy and Environmental Sustainability Solutions for Megacities programme.
For instance, toxins from e-waste in landfills can seep into the groundwater that flows into rivers, causing water pollution.
- FOO JIE YING