Automated Removal of Brominated Flame Retardant Material From a Mixed E-Waste Plastics Recycling Stream

EPA Contract Number: EPD08039
Title: Automated Removal of Brominated Flame Retardant Material From a Mixed E-Waste Plastics Recycling Stream
Investigators: Sommer, Edward J.
Small Business: National Recovery Technologies Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2008 through August 31, 2008
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Waste , 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 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 either 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 is not very effective for sorting e-waste plastics.

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 in order to make a profit. Legislative action in many states may increase this rate, but the long-term viability of e-waste recycling depends upon economical approaches to recovering these valuable materials. E-waste plastics often are difficult to reuse in part because of the inability to separate those materials that contain brominated flame retardant.

The objective of the proposed Phase I research is to determine the feasibility for developing a high-speed automated sorting system for sorting plastics containing brominated flame retardant in an e-waste plastics stream. This automated sorting system would allow recyclers of e-wastes to more efficiently process e-waste plastics and sell the polymer to plastics manufacturers for a premium, thereby making recycling more cost effective.

A significant increase in the anticipated amount of e-waste has been observed over the last few years and 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 with and without flame retardants, 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 the successful completion of Phase I and Phase II research that the application of the technology will improve the costs of recycling e-wastes, improving the rate at which e-wastes are recycled.

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

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, waste management, waste monitoring, electronic waste, e-waste, toxic waste, water supply, manual hand sorting, differential density sorting, e-waste plastics, brominated flame retardant, automated sorting system, polymer,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, e-waste, plastics sorting, environmental sustainability, electronic waste recycling, recycling, plastic, automated waste recycling

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Automated Removal of Brominated Flame Retardant Material From a Mixed E-Waste Plastics Recycling Stream  | Final Report