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E-waste recycler goes high-tech to boost volume

An electronics waste recycling center in Ontario, Canada, invests in an automated system to handle a single stream of e-waste in anticipation of higher volume from the province's e-waste mandate.

Tons of electronics will be transformed back into raw materials using a highly automated series of electronic machines in a new facility in Ontario, Canada.

Sims Recycling Solutions flipped the switch on an e-waste recycling and refurbishing operation yesterday in Mississauga outside Toronto, which converts all incoming material. The facility will be able to treat and resell 75,000 metric tons of e-waste annually, including CRT monitors, TVs, PCs, and other electronics gadgets, such as digital music players and mobile phones.

In the U.S., electronic waste is a fast-growing source of waste. In 2007, about 18 percent of TVs and PCs were recycled, and about 10 percent of cell phones were, according to the EPA.

The Sims operation will rely on a number of techniques to automatically separate and collect plastics, glass, and metals from the incoming stream of e-waste. Using belts, optical sensors, and metal-separation machines is already done for single-stream household recycling, but Sims is using this technology, rather than manual sorting, to handle e-waste.

Sims made the investment in anticipation of higher e-waste recycling rates due to mandates from Ontario and other Canadian provinces, said Cindy Couts, president of Sims Recycling Solutions. In Ontario, there is a fee on electronics at the time of purchase which is used to fund recycling programs, she explained.

"Without that eco-fee and the collection of funds, then there isn't enough economics in the program to drive higher rates of recycling," Couts said. The first year of the program fell far short of its target but now after some changes were made, Sims expects more significant uptake and a profitable operation.

X-Rays and optical scanners
The Mississauga center is built around a series of processes to shred and then separate different materials, even capturing the dust that's created from the shredding process for recycling.

After shredding, waste goes to through a shaking hopper to spread goods out evenly on conveyor belts. A magnet sorts out ferrous metals and then transparency sensors pick out glass from plastics. There's a step with an X-ray machine to differentiate glass from glass with lead, which is used in old CRT monitors.

Optical sorters, which can be calibrated for size, color, and density, identify different materials, such as printed circuit boards. To take out non-ferrous metals, there's a machine with an eddy current--a rapidly alternating magnetic field--which sends materials into a separate bin while the rest falls onto another belt.

Toxic material is sorted out beforehand by hand, such as florescent bulbs which contain mercury or batteries, according to the company.

Couts said that this center can handle so many different materials in one place because it incorporates e-waste recycling technologies from so many different sites. "It's high-tech in the demanufacturing world," she said.