Improving the Recyclability of Computer Scrap and Other E-Waste

EPA Contract Number: 68D03031
Title: Improving the Recyclability of Computer Scrap and Other E-Waste
Investigators: Sommer, Edward J.
Small Business: National Recovery Technologies Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: April 1, 2003 through September 1, 2003
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2003) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Hazardous Waste/Remediation , SBIR - Waste , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


Electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the most rapidly growing waste problems worldwide and has reached crisis proportions. The crisis relates not only to quantity, but also to the toxic nature of e-waste. Vast amounts of toxic materials such as lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants are contained within the growing mountains of e-waste around the world. The United States has a developing e-waste handling infrastructure that is not yet extensive. There are only a handful of e-waste processors in operation across the country, and many export much of the e-waste materials they receive to Asia, where antiquated techniques are used to extract metals, and the residues are being improperly disposed, creating significant environmental hazards.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a preferred method for handling waste streams such as e-waste is to properly recycle those materials that can be recycled and properly dispose of the residues. It has been established that for recycling to be viable in the long term, the value of the recycled material must provide an economic incentive for recycling. Although plastics are a major constituent of e-waste, the rate at which these plastics are recycled is astonishingly low, a primary reason being the low value of the unsorted commingled material. The objective of this Phase I research project is to determine the feasibility for developing a high-speed automated sorting system for sorting plastics in e-waste streams by polymer type. This would allow recyclers of e-waste to obtain highly pure polymers from their waste streams that then could be sold to manufacturers at a premium price for reintroduction into new products. It is anticipated that upon the successful completion of Phase I and Phase II research projects that the application of this technology will improve the economics and recycling rates of e-waste.

National Recovery Technologies, Inc., is a manufacturer of recycling equipment and has received considerable interest in the development of a sorting system for recovering recyclable plastic materials from e-wastes. Due to this interest on the part of recyclers and manufacturers of electronic equipment alike, the proposed technology is expected to have a strong market. Using National Safety Council estimates, it is estimated that there will be almost 7 billion tons of plastics from e-waste available for recycling by the year 2007, representing a potential market value of almost $3.6 billion.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, electronic waste, e-waste, hazardous material, commingled material, plastics, polymer, recycling, EPA., RFA, Scientific Discipline, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, Waste, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Municipal, waste reduction, Sustainable Environment, Technology for Sustainable Environment, recycling, Hazardous Waste, Chemistry and Materials Science, Hazardous, Environmental Engineering, municipal waste plastics, electronic waste, hazardous waste disposal, waste recycling, waste minimization, computer scrap, hazardous waste recycling, recovery, plastics sorting, polymer sorting, municipal waste, polymers, high speed automated sorting, automated waste recycling, electronics industry, plastics, materials recovery facility, material recovery facility

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Improving the Recyclability of Computer Scrap and Other E-Waste