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

EPA Contract Number: EPD06081
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: II
Project Period: April 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007
Project Amount: $224,995
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2006) Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Waste , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


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, consequently leaching into the water supply.  Due to these concerns, e-waste recycling is a rapidly growing industry.  Unfortunately, most current e-waste recycling processes rely on either manual hand sorting or automated equipment used to recover significant portions of valuable metals. The automated method is expensive in the United States and associated with major environmental damage overseas.

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 to make a profit.  Legislative action in many states may increase this rate, but the long-term viability of e-waste recycling depends on economical approaches to recovering these valuable materials.

In Phase I of this research project, National Recovery Technologies, Inc., demonstrated the technical feasibility for developing a high-speed automated sorting system for sorting printed wiring boards (PWBs) from e-waste plastics.  This automated sorting system allows recyclers of e-wastes to process PWBs more efficiently to obtain a pure plastics stream.  The stream then can be sorted into pure polymer streams for sale to plastics manufacturers at a premium price. 

The objective of this Phase II research project is to complete the development of this technology.  A significant increase in the anticipated amount of e-waste has been observed over the last few years.  This is expected to continue as the time between introduction and obsolescence becomes continually smaller.  Because most electronic devices contain a significant number of plastic parts, PWB separation and recovery of these materials is crucial for the long-term viability of environmentally friendly recycling of e-wastes.  It is anticipated that upon successful completion of Phase I and Phase II that the application of the technology will decrease the cost of recycling e-wastes, improving the rate at which e-wastes are recycled.

National Recovery Technologies is a major manufacturer of recycling equipment for post-consumer plastics recycling.  The company has received considerable interest in the development of a system for sorting PWB materials from e-waste plastics.  Due to this interest, the proposed technology is expected to have a strong market in the e-waste recycling industry.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, electronic waste, e-waste, recycling, plastics recycling, post-consumer plastics, printed wiring boards, PWBs, toxic waste, landfills, environmental protection, e-waste plastics, polymer, differential density sorting, recyclable materials, sorting system,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION, Waste, POLLUTANTS/TOXICS, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Municipal, Sustainable Environment, waste reduction, Chemicals, Technology for Sustainable Environment, recycling, Hazardous Waste, Environmental Engineering, Hazardous, 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 I:

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