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Fixing the Final Steps In the Recycling Chain

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-throw-old-crt-monitors-out-of-my-car-on-the-highway dept.

Earth 45

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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Idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397332)

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?

Re:Idea (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398828)

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 together so all copper wiring harnesses fall out.
Heat to 150, separates the plastic parts from the metal frame parts, and melts the circuit board mounting posts.
Heat circuit board to 180, melts solder, components containing rare earths are collected.
Heat metal frame to 240, special screws holding aluminum parts such as heat sinks melt.
Heat metal frame to 280, special screws holding copper parts melt.

These are completely made up numbers and orders and products, but standardizing on this type of construction would allow for standardized decomposition.

Re:Idea (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399232)

[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 on the part itself using a 2D barcode.

Re:Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37399396)

Heheh, each product should have a perl script embedded that starts with "Use Recyclotron;", then continues to describe the dismantling process for the product...

Re:Idea (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37402148)

That's pretty much the idea. And perl is smaller than XML, so it'd fit in a barcode. :-) But yeah, having a sequence to deconstruct an item, describing the physical characteristics needed to deconstruct in the optimum order is what's needed.

Given the quantities of discarded items, a fast and bulk handling method of decomposition is needed. Having to learn how to open each item isn't feasible. Imaging having a hundred thousand individual tear-down instructions like: twist the case of a Sony DVR-450 three-quarters of a turn to the right, followed by a push down, unhook, unscrew three tamperproof screws, then lift up to recover the plastic Gilmer belt. No, they need an easy way to pop every case, take out all the aluminum, take out all the copper, remove the circuit boards, recover the precious metals, etc. Solvents and temperatures are great because they don't require accuracy or human attention - bathe it in a certain solvent and the plastics float to the top, or heat it up and it melts off, blow on it with compressed air so the light bits fly away and the heavy bits remain. Simple and automatable.

Step N: solvent X plus Temperature K applying mechanical separation method Z over time T yields material W in quantity range Q.

It still preserves trade secrets. You don't have to have all Ws precisely identified or give away exact quantities, you could have broader classifications such as circuit boards, common metals, and plastics, or you could get more detailed and break it down to rare earths and precious metals, or you could go further and include specific recovery items such as indium, tantalum, gold, silver, platinum, etc. Knowing there's between 10 and 100 milligrams of gold in a cell phone is hardly giving away a trade secret, but would tell me enough to know if it's worth recovering or not. And knowing how to melt the device in order to retrieve it doesn't foster reverse engineering any more than exposing Philips screw heads.

weaponization, genocides final steps for man'kind' (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397366)

what to do with all those bones & disease infactdead stuff? become billionerrors finding doubt?

uncle sam has been declared brain dead again, & is reciting our last rites as it goes to the boneyard itself. see you there?

Mark or analyse? (4, Funny)

canthusus (463707) | more than 3 years ago | (#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...

Re:Mark or analyse? (1)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397842)

I doubt it's practical but WIBNI you could just burn everything and process the oxides left over.

Re:Mark or analyse? (1)

ciscoguy01 (635963) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399244)

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 sort them by color for regrinding and making new products. If they are shredded or burned that cannot be done. They have to be sorted.

If everything were just burned up or shredded and mixed it makes none of that environmental recycling work. You get a mixed waste stream that takes lots of energy to process and results in hundreds of tons of worthless waste that has to be disposed of. And no useful chips, so new ones must be made.
It takes more labor to do separation of recycling streams but it's much more environmentally sound and results in much higher value waste.
And don't think this is somehow *dumping* of our old ewaste in China, it's not. They come here and buy our ewaste, they *need* the raw materials. And they want it separated and pay a premium for the material if it's like that. Shredded, that's the cheapest scrap.

Re:Mark or analyse? (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37402224)

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.

Re:Mark or analyse? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397906)

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 elemental form, but there goes any hope of doing this in a profitable fashion.

processing hydrocarbons on-the-fly (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400078)

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 lowering a microwave tube. I wonder what happened - maybe Wall Street torpedo'd them. ?

There are some videos on Youtube that demonstrate the prototype with chunks of used tires...

Oh well.

Re:Mark or analyse? (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#37402934)

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 monitors can be resued,...etc.

I think the government and local cities need to invest way more then they are doing to make this become a profitable business....they are leaving all the R&D to be done by actual companies not getting anything in return except for what they come up with as a byproduct of the reused materials.

Re:Mark or analyse? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37405024)

Exactly that sir! Our ewaste is getting green and doing so rapidly to the point it will eventually be biodegradable.

We need a way to process waste so it can be directed to the correct recycling effort.

We also need a way to process current mixed waste landfills to recover valuables and neutralize toxins.

I for one am hoping China continues strangling rare earth exports and am even more thrilled at it's economic threats against the US. That alone will power a decade of removing dependence on foreign rare earths. Now if the oil producing states would cut us off....

Re:Mark or analyse? (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 3 years ago | (#37405566)

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

Like a Bassett Hound?

DBOM (2)

Ruliz Galaxor (568498) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397414)

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.

Re:DBOM (1)

Ruliz Galaxor (568498) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397446)

Distributed => Disassembly

Re:DBOM (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397538)

Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these! :D

Re:DBOM (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397672)

that would be d bom!

Re:DBOM (0)

RulerOf (975607) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397732)

There needs to be a "+1 *Groan*" mod option.

Re:DBOM (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37401028)

Does anyone actually use the DBOM standard, though? My company, in the "green manufacturing" space, works with BOMs from all sorts of companies, including parts suppliers, and when we've asked them about the DBOM, they usually have NEVER EVEN HEARD OF IT.

It's not a solution if no one uses it -

nerds (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37397570)

Nerds don't need money. Women are repulsed by their fat bodies and lack of social grace. That's why they work for free.

Not a technical problem (3, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not a technical problem (1)

tqk (413719) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398098)

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. That's the easy part.

Re:Not a technical problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37398688)

Marketing can say that anyway, though.

Re:Not a technical problem (1)

tqk (413719) | more than 3 years ago | (#37406238)

How's about we leave that up to marketing? "Our manufacturing process ensures everything we produce is recyclable!"

Marketing can say that anyway, though.

Yeah, and if they can prove it's true, more power to 'em. If not, there's false or misleading advertising laws or regulations on the books. Cue the class-action suit lawyers.

Re:Not a technical problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37399146)

Corporations are ass awful at mitigating externalities on their own. This is the precise type of situation where regulations are better than "hoping" the "free market" will do it.

By the way, this basic problem applies to all recyclables. Packaging comes in so many different shapes and sizes that it can be really confusing what to recycle and how/where. This is a big part of the reason why recycling costs more, in a lot of cases, than just throwing the stuff in a landfill.

Recycling is a great example where a national one-size fits all solution would be the most efficient way to go. The labeling should be crystal clear and precisely match the containers that go to the curb so that there is no confusion at all.

political barriers? (2)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397726)

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.

Re:political barriers? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398414)

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.

Re:political barriers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37399030)

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.

1. Food already has an ingredient list. Government could expand that law to all products big enough to have such a tag.
2. Keep the ingredients from the government, loose your licence to manufacture, have your plant shut down. And no foreign imports without an ingredient list either.
3. Fighting government don't work too well.

Re:political barriers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37400580)

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

This is ALREADY AVAILABLE - the EU REACH/RoHS , China RoHS, Korean and Japaneses requiments - all have now generated very specific data on what's contained in each of those components and provided to manufactures in the form of IPC1752 forms and similar

Not true (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#37397932)

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.

Re:Not true (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398134)

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.

Re:Not true (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399170)

Don't forget silver and copper, too! While not at $1800/troy oz, there's a lot more of it on boards.

Re:Not true (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37405618)

And the easy to recycle tin, and plastic from the cases and power supplies that is usually broken down at the first step.

Is devlove really the correct word for this? (1)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398002)

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!!

Re:Is devlove really the correct word for this? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#37399574)

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.

Devolve? (2)

wyr_taliesin (1000725) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398010)

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!

Re:Devolve? (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398550)

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.

Labeling or disassembling? (1)

readin (838620) | more than 3 years ago | (#37398886)

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 disassemble. Making them easy to disassemble to separate out the various materials would make recycling much easier. I don't know if there is money to be made by persuading electronics manufacturers to incorporate this into their designs, but it would sure help the environment and the long-term sustainability of electronics manufacturing.

Re:Labeling or disassembling? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37399682)

If this happened, we might even get a chance to repair our electronics and stuff. Making it so it's not junk, skipping the entire recycling process.
But I'm sure selling parts isn't as profitable as selling entirely new things...

Re:Labeling or disassembling? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37399914)

It is efficient to take the stuff apart, and the people doing it do recognize what's valuable and what's not.

It's not "This board has Expensivium and this one has Greatium" though, because the downstream processors doesn't care either way. They know that modern boards are all valuable with some from certain equipment (hard drives, for one, due to denser layouts) being even more so and that's good enough for them. I work in electronics recycling, we do manual separation, some operations do mechanical (shredders), I don't see how either one of us would benefit from this.

Re:Labeling or disassembling? (1)

readin (838620) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400538)

So then why would labeling the components be as beneficial as TFA suggests?

Soylent Green? (1)

Tharsman (1364603) | more than 3 years ago | (#37400706)

Bah never mind, this is about computer recyclilng... not actual final FINAL steps of recycling.

Yep. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37404488)

That's pep!

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