Identification and Sorting of Printed Wiring Boards (PWBs) Within an E-Waste Recycling Stream

EPA Contract Number: EPD05031
Title: Identification and Sorting of Printed Wiring Boards (PWBs) Within an E-Waste Recycling Stream
Investigators: Sommer, Edward J.
Small Business: National Recovery Technologies Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2005 through August 31, 2005
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2005) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , SBIR - Pollution Prevention


Electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the most rapidly growing waste problems worldwide. Improper handling of e-waste results in vast amounts of toxic waste being sent to landfills and leaching into the water supply. Because of these concerns, e-waste recycling is a rapidly growing industry. Unfortunately, most current e-waste recycling processes rely on manual hand sorting or differential density sorting methods. Manual hand sorting is expensive in the United States and has been associated with major environmental damage overseas. Differential density sorting is expensive and not very effective for sorting e-waste plastics by polymer type. Currently developing plastics sorting technologies are incompatible with the differential density sorting technology.

When properly sorted, there is a significant amount of valuable recyclable materials in e-waste. Recycling rates for e-waste currently are low, in part because e-waste recyclers charge a fee for recycling. Legislative action in many states may increase these rates, but the long-term viability of e-waste recycling depends on economical approaches for recovering these valuable materials.

The goal of this research project is to determine the feasibility of developing a high-speed automated sorting system for sorting printed wiring boards (PWBs) from e-waste plastics. This automated sorting system would allow e-waste recyclers to more efficiently process PWBs and obtain a pure plastics stream. This pure plastics stream then could be more efficiently sorted into pure polymer streams, which can be sold for a premium to plastics manufacturers.

A significant increase in the anticipated amount of e-waste has been observed during the last few years and is expected to continue as the time between introduction and obsolescence becomes shorter. Most electronic devices contain a significant number of plastic parts. The separation of PWBs and the recovery of these materials is crucial for the long-term viability of environmentally friendly recycling of e-wastes. It is anticipated that upon the successful completion of Phase I and Phase II, the application of this technology will decrease the cost of recycling e-waste and improve the rate at which e-waste is recycled.

National Recovery Technologies, Inc., is a major manufacturer of recycling equipment for the postconsumer plastics recycling industry, and has received considerable interest in developing a sorting system for PWB materials from e-waste plastics. As a result of this interest, the technology is expected to have a strong market in the e-waste recycling industry.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, electronic waste, e-waste, e-waste recycling, e-waste plastics, polymer, differential density sorting, recyclable materials, sorting system, printed wiring board, PWB, PWB materials, EPA, RFA, Scientific Discipline, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, Waste, POLLUTANTS/TOXICS, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Municipal, waste reduction, Sustainable Environment, Chemicals, Technology for Sustainable Environment, recycling, Hazardous Waste, Chemistry and Materials Science, Hazardous, Environmental Engineering, municipal waste plastics, electronic waste, e-waste, waste recycling, waste minimization, computer scrap, hazardous waste recycling, recovery, plastics sorting, polymer sorting, electronic waste recycling, municipal waste, polymers, high speed automated sorting, automated waste recycling, electronics industry, plastics, materials recovery facility, material recovery facility, municipal solid waste

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Identification and Sorting of Printed Wiring Boards (PWBs) Within an E-Waste Recycling Stream