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Danish researchers join the fight against electronic waste

By State of Green, August 08, 2018

Electronic waste or e-waste is one of the world’s biggest climate villains, and the issue is exacerbated by our throwaway culture, where recycling does not create economic or environmental gain. Danish researchers want to put an end to this.

According to American environmental authorities, more than 130 million devices are disposed of in landfills in the United States alone. Furthermore, only 11 per cent of cell phones are recycled. In this context, Danish researchers have therefore initiated a project, which will make it more attractive to recycle electronic devices.

Every year, 50 million tonnes of electronic waste, such as computers, antiquated phones, televisions and other worn-out gadgets, are disposed of in landfills – an amount which is equivalent to 5,000 Eiffel towers. The waste is subsequently incinerated in developing countries, which is highly damaging to the environment.

”For example, computer and mobile phone components are burned in large, open fires to extract valuable, reusable metals and the plastic and metal vapours which arise as a result can be extremely poisonous and lead to long-term environmental pollution”, said Keshav Parajuly, PhD, who is employed at the University of Southern Denmark’s Life Cycle Centre.

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Another relevant factor is the production of the electronics, which consume many natural resources and metals, but are quickly replaced by consumers for products that contain newer and more advanced technology.

In an attempt to halt the overconsumption of natural resource and protect the environment, Danish researchers are banding together. Together with Keshav Parajuly, the researchers will develop a model that will allow e-waste to be effectively recycled and reused. Under the name “E-circle”, they will establish a platform, where all the companies and private actors can receive help, inspiration and guidance on how to become better at reusing electronic devices.

Electronic producers are also to be a part of the E-circle network, which is intended to function as a two-way information stream. The producers will contribute with construction diagrams and data on the materials and components used in their products. Doing so will allow recycling companies, which deal with electronic products can gain greater insight.

”This will enhance the companies’ understanding about which parts of the product are economically valuable and how they can best separate the device and extract the reusable parts and materials”, Keshav Parajuly explained.

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Cheaper to throw away
Still, the circular economy faces a great challenge; at the moment the economic and environmental interests are not going hand in hand.

For instance, a mobile phone has an average lifetime of approximately 18 months before it is replaced. It is often cheaper to throw it away than to get it fixed. This is a tendency reflected in the general consumer culture with all electronic devices.

At the same time, only 11 per cent of  mobile phones are recycled. This is due to the economic cost of reusing – the price is often higher compared to incineration.

The E-circle platform hopes to make it possible to break with the old patterns of e-waste with their new tool.

Read more about the E-circle project: https://www.sdu.dk/en/aktuelt/nyt_fra_sdu/ecircle

 

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