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swiss e-waste competence


The last step of the e-waste "wheel of life" is refining. Refining of ressources in e-waste is possible and the technical solutions exist to get back raw with minimal environmental impact. Most of the fractions need to be refined or conditioned in order to be sold as secondary raw materials or to be disposed of in a final disposal site, respectively. Many refining processes take place outside Switzerland, entailing greater transport distances. During the refining process, to three flows of materials is paid attention: Metals, plastics and glass.





Source: Umicore

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Metals: Metals are recovered in a large refinery. There is no such refinery in Switzerland except for steel and aluminum. Due to economies of scale, specialisation and division of labour such large installations aren't needed in every country. For example, the refinery of Umicore in Belgium is made up of two main processes:The precious metal operations and the base metal operations. The precious metal operations take part in a copper bullion and the base metal operations in a lead slag. This "integrated smelting" process is a combination of several metallurgical and chemical unit processes and recovers in total 17 different metals. The plant covers a surface area of 116 hectares and has a capacity to treat 300 000 tons of raw materials per year. The recovery of precious metals out of complex recyclables and raw materials via an integrated smelter is an economic and environmental sound solution. Umicore operates almost a zero-waste process, for e-scrap less than 1% of the feed is finally going into a controlled depot, herein hazardous substances are concentrated and safely isolated. more



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Plastics: Not all plastics can be re-used because they are often chemically treated and contaminated with undesired flame retardants. Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) replaced PCB as the major chemical flame retardant and are an effective flame-retardant. They are applied to prevent electronics from taking fire. Plastics need to be separated according to their contents and treated separately.
The restrictions on certain heavy metals and flame retardants in electrical and electronic equipment as well as their spare parts in Switzerland are generally speaking identical to those in Directive 2002/95/EU (RoHS).
Plastics that can't be reused, is recycled thermally. In 2003, 20'800 tonnes of plastic waste has been used as fuel oil in cement works. Although the emerging heat can be used to generate electricity, this process presents an irrecoverable loss of valuable raw materials.

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Glass: One one hand, glass of fluorecent lamps needs to be recycled. In Switzerland, the company SM Recyling AG processes breakage of glass of fluorescent lamps into glass wool insulation. The glass wool is used as insulation in buildings.
On the other hand, recycling of CRT screens (containing lead and other harmful substances) is necessary. The demand for CRT screens in falling rapidly and companies cease selling CRTs. LCD screens and panels are taking over the market. This means that more CRTs are returned than sold. Therefore, recycling solutions for CRTs including a selling market are set up for a fading out technology. This rises the question if and at what cost the recycling solutions can be hold up if fewer and fewer CRTs are returned.

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Battery: The Batrec AG plant is capable of recovering iron, manganese, zinc and mercury, whereupon the harmful materials (such as slag) are safely conveyed to a disposal facility.

Metal Refinery