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Earth Hardware

Fixing the Final Steps In the Recycling Chain 45

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-throw-old-crt-monitors-out-of-my-car-on-the-highway dept.
itwbennett writes "The only way to rapidly and cost-effectively devolve computer products is to know the composition of the products. But we don't, says blogger Tom Henderson. This industry — largely at the behest of COMPTIA members — pioneered bar coding schemes, asset tagging, and inventory control, and could now also add rapid product devolution to its list of credits. We need a taxonomy, a method to affix material markings, and a database access method that tells the devolvers how to make money. Do this and you could be a billionaire and a hero, says Henderson."
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Fixing the Final Steps In the Recycling Chain

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    How about tagging the components with some sort of ultra-high intensity tungsten/rhenium/carbon chip that allows sorting (probably not RFID, but x-ray detection or such, forming a visible barcode internally), that can be melted down from within the metals/plastics and smashed in the fiberglasses/ceramics, and recovered/recycled?

    • by plover (150551) *

      How about standardizing assembly on binders and connectors that are fully deactivated by a published list of specific temperatures and solvents? Imagine knowing that if you drop a laptop or a toaster or a TV set or a cell phone in one end of the process that you'll get the same breakdown of components out?

      The formula might look like this:
      Heat to 120, tabs designed to melt fall apart and plastic case opens.
      Apply acetone, dissolves special parts of the clasps that hold internal electrical plug connectors tog

      • by plover (150551) *

        [Following up to myself, whatever.]
        One formula won't work for all products. For example, toasters operate in a high-heat environment, and couldn't be made to work if the wiring harness melted at 150. Or products with no metal frame would have a different process. We'd need a set of formulas, and each product given a recycling process tag (like today's plastic number in the triangle) which would tell the decompositors which bin to drop this specific gizmo in. Or the unique formula could be stamped right o

  • by canthusus (463707) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @07:28AM (#37397410)
    Or forget about the complexities of a marking scheme that will only be found on a subset of dumped products, many of which will predate any mandatory scheme. Instead, how about analysing the trash on-the-fly? If only there was a cheap open source chemical analyser available...
    • I doubt it's practical but WIBNI you could just burn everything and process the oxides left over.
      • I doubt it's practical but WIBNI you could just burn everything and process the oxides left over.

        Which happens now and is incredibly wasteful.
        There was a video of a northern California ewaste recycling firm showing how their huge shredder could make mixed waste out of a brand new shopping cart. How wasteful!
        Whereas the environmental friendly way to recycle is by separation.
        Circuit boards have chips some of which are needed, when those boards are sent to China they remove and reuse those chips. So new chips don't need to be made.
        Same with plastics, we send our old plastics to China and they s

        • by plover (150551) *

          Agreed, burning the entire product is wasteful, but burning some of it makes sense to smelt out the rare earth and precious metals. Trying to recover individual bits like chips is a bad idea, though, as there is no way to assure future customers that they don't contain hidden damage or have sustained stresses. Silicon is cheap.

    • Yeah that thing is a lot like the thing we build a few times a week in my lab. It'll work great in one specific set of problems, and have to be expensively re-engineered to deal with anything else (electrochemistry is appalling difficult to do well).

      Which rather defeats the entire purpose of the exercise, which is that it's expensive and time-consuming to figure out what every single part is made out of - obviously if you dump everything in some strong acids and alkalis you could break it all down to near e

    • Global Resource Corporation (archive.org [archive.org]) had a neat microwave technology to liberate propane and diesel from solid plastics. This invention would be very helpful for refrigerator and electronic recycling, because burning plastic on wires to get to the copper releases a lot of hazardous gasses.

      But it's too disruptive to the established energy sector, and they ran out of money. For example, everyone knows the best way to mine coal is to strip mine by taking the top of a mountain off, not drilling a hole and

    • I agree, many of the recycling plants already do this to sort out the garbage, they could technically have a separate department that handles IT products and electronics, once most products are in this location, an eventual sharing of information will lead to quicker deevolution of the product as well as maybe even quicker
      redirection of mass quantities of particular products, such as all the rubber from tires can be used for special materials used in other industries...so maybe all screen glass from old mon

    • by Nethead (1563)

      "If only there was a cheap open source chemical analyzer available..."

      Like a Bassett Hound?

  • Somewhat related, but not quite the solution is the Distributed Bill of Materials (DBOM): http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=924533 [ieee.org] (and related articles); The DBOM tells the devolvers how to devolve a product and what the resulting parts are made of.

  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @07:59AM (#37397660)

    Do this and you could be a billionaire and a hero, says Henderson."

    No, this kind of thinking is a result of the lone inventor myth. "If we just had a great idea, we'd be in milk and honey"

    What needs to be done is obvious, and already stated. "a taxonomy, a method to affix material markings, and a database access method". Any decent DBA/programmer could design a scheme to do this. The real work is convincing corporations to go along, when there is no obvious quick return on investment. Who would be the first to put their company at a competitive disadvantage in a down economy? (Hard enough in an up economy) The billions that Henderson is talking about have to come from somewhere.

    You could set up a company similar to UL labs, that would affix a golden seal to products that met these criteria, then get large organizations on board to set rules that they will give preference to products that have the seal. Not impossible, but the mountains to climb are political (corporate and government), rather than technical.

    • by tqk (413719)

      Who would be the first to put their company at a competitive disadvantage in a down economy?

      How's about we leave that up to marketing? "Our manufacturing process ensures everything we produce is recyclable! We're not creating new gaping holes in the landscape, nor killing miners, to get at virgin materials like our competition."

      Add selfishness to the mix. The companies that do this could get back all the recycled material cheaply, lowering their raw material procurement costs.

      Carbon credits, feh! How about recycling credits?

      This is not a technical problem looking for a technical solution. Tha

  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @08:05AM (#37397726) Journal

    I wonder if the biggest obstacles aren't political.

    1. Manufacturers don't want competitors to know the ingredients.

    2. They also want to keep ingredients from public and government scrutiny and oversight.

    3. And as usual, everyone fights change, no matter how beneficial.

    • by khallow (566160)

      1. Manufacturers don't want competitors to know the ingredients.

      2. They also want to keep ingredients from public and government scrutiny and oversight.

      Both are economic factors. Manufacturers don't want to release the list of "ingredients" because it costs them in some way, via a competitive disadvantage or giving government regulators ammunition.

      3. And as usual, everyone fights change, no matter how beneficial.

      Because change has always turned to be as beneficial as it is hyped to be. I'd gnaw my arm off, if I thought it'd make me worse off.

  • The only way to rapidly and cost-effectively devolve computer products is to know the composition of the products

    Nope. If you increase the market value of the products you are after, that is another way to make the process cost effective. So it's not "the only way". It's perhaps the most rational way given current commodity prices. I do predict that today's landfills will become the mines of tomorrow.

    • Right now, the price of gold has done this. A computer is worth about $25USD in bulk. Finger boards are worth $10usd - $15usd in bulk. The majority is getting broken down.
      • by Dunbal (464142) *
        Don't forget silver and copper, too! While not at $1800/troy oz, there's a lot more of it on boards.
        • And the easy to recycle tin, and plastic from the cases and power supplies that is usually broken down at the first step.
  • I'm asking not telling since my english is crap (first and only language btw). Anyway it sounds rubbish to me, the devolvers are having trouble devloving this stuff, we need a better way to devolve things!!
    • Yeah, I think he meant, "decomposing," or perhaps, "deconstructing." Devolve probably shouldn't be used unless some kind of reverse genetic transformation occurs over a long period of time.
  • I really don't think the article should keep going on about 'devolving' - to devolve means to transfer power from a government/legislative body to a lower level body. It's got nothing to do with re-cycling or dismantling old electronics!
    • by Toonol (1057698)
      Yeah, was a jarring use of the language. I assume it's jargon used in the the recycling industry, but it should have been reworded in the summary.
  • The article suggests that the problem is how to label the parts. That seems like the wrong question to me. If it were efficient to take the stuff apart then it would quickly become either automated or the people doing it would learn to recognize by appearance which parts are made of what in each kind of appliance.

    Isn't the real problem that the electronics are too hard to break up? In some devices it is nearly impossible just to get to the battery - and the devices are purposefully made difficult to d
  • Bah never mind, this is about computer recyclilng... not actual final FINAL steps of recycling.

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