There’s good news this week for electronic scrap disposal, with recycling specialist 3S International announcing the opening of the USA’s first BLUBOX processing facility at Mount Pleasant, Michigan. This innovative plant will handle up to 7,000 tons of e-scrap every year and it’s just the first step in what 3S are planning.
The rapid growth in consumer electronics shows no sign of slowing down, but it’s proven to be a real headache for waste disposal. Many devices, including cellphones and media players, have a fairly short life cycle before obsolescence claims them and that means millions are disposed of every year. Computers, monitors, TVs and other devices are lower in numbers but much greater in bulk, and a distressing percentage of them end up in landfills. That’s both a waste of the valuable materials they contain and a serious environmental hazard. Almost anything with a screen – especially LCD or backlit models – contains mercury, for example, and it only takes small quantities to cause serious contamination. As households move from conventional light bulbs to compact fluorescents that particular problem is liable to get worse; modern lamps, including CFTs and halogen bulbs, contain a worrying assortment of toxic chemicals and other pollutants.
BLUBOX is a plug and play recycling system for electronic waste, developed in Switzerland and already widely used in Europe. The heart of the process is an advanced sorting and processing unit housed in a 40 foot container, allowing it to be easily set up and added to any existing recycling plant. Once installed a single unit can process up to 1.5 tons of LCD screens and lamps every hour and it’s fully automatic, so it needs only three staff to operate. All moving parts are housed inside the container, making for a high safety level, and the unit maintains a negative air pressure inside to prevent any evaporated mercury escaping into the atmosphere. This feature operates even when the BLUBOX is in standby mode or after an emergency stop, guaranteeing environmental protection.
The BLUBOX unit automatically pulverizes electronic scrap, reducing it to chips and powder, then extracts mercury and all other hazardous materials. It also recovers any rare earth minerals in the scrap, preserving valuable resources and helping to offset running costs. The final output is entirely in the form of reusable materials, so nothing ends up being disposed of by landfill or incineration. A single unit can handle any combination of fluorescent and halogen lamps, all types of flat screen, notebook and tablet computers, mobile phones and any similar devices such as MP3 players.
3S International is a US-based recycling company specializing in electronics scrap. They’ve now obtained an exclusive North American license to operate BLUBOX systems; their plan is to expand over the next three years until they have between six and ten sites running. If they achieve this they’ll be able to safely and sustainably process up to 30,000 tons of old devices per year, which is enough to put a serious dent in the amount headed for landfill.