Electronics and WEEE Waste management

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Electronic boards, contained in new generation household appliances, IoT devices, PCs and smartphones, can become a real resource. They are a source of valuable raw materials, such as rare earths and strategic metals. It is estimated that from the treatment of a ton of electronic boards, obtained from electronic devices at the end of their useful life, it is possible to obtain: 129 kg of copper, 43 kg of tin, 15 kg of lead, 0.35 kg of silver and 0.24 kg of gold.

The recovery of materials from the circuit boards is a great opportunity for the environment that has not yet been sufficiently exploited. According to official data, waste derived from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in 2019 amounted to 53.6 million tons. It is expected that by 2030 they will grow to 74 million tons. Only a portion of these, however, is reused to make new products. The European Union’s goal is to recycle 65% of electronic waste. But the goal to reach is still far.

In particular, electronic boards contain precious metals, such as gold, palladium, platinum, but also rare earths, minerals that are essential for the hi-tech industry, difficult and expensive to extract in nature. If current growth rates are maintained constant, some essential materials for the production of electrical and electronic equipment such as gallium, indium or germanium will soon no longer be available and recycling of electronic boards will become the only way to recover and reintroduce these raw materials into the production circuit. In addition to ensuring a more efficient use of resources, their reuse would avoid the dispersion of toxic and polluting substances into the environment.

The recovery of electronic boards is a meticulous process that involves the disassembly of disused devices, the reclamation and recovery of materials, separating the metals from the plastic components through pyrolysis processes or hydrometallurgy treatments.
The European Directive, implemented in Italy by the WEEE decree, is very serious regarding the collection and disposal of electronic cards. In fact, it requires electronic waste to be collected by accredited companies. Through the proper management of WEEE, virtuous supply chains can be created for waste management, which in Europe alone could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, protecting the environment and creating value.

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