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How are used electronics recycled?

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Quick Answer

When recycled responsibly, used electronics are taken apart by hand before cathode-ray tubes are crushed and the metal separated from glass so that both are able to be reused. When recycled irresponsibly, as in countries with lax environmental laws, many materials are discarded where they pollute the air and water.

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Full Answer

In many American electronics recycling operations, workers remove usable wire and other parts from computers, tablets, televisions, smartphones and other used electronics before placing the cathode-ray tubes on conveyor belts. The cathode-ray tubes, which contain harmful lead, are then delivered into a machine that crushes them in a contained environment. The machine separates metal from glass. Magnets pull the metal away from the lead-contaminated glass, which is then sifted into containers to be shipped to lead smelters that process the material for use in bullets, batteries, X-ray shielding and new cathode-ray tubes.

The salvageable electronics components are often turned into second-hand electronics that are shipped to the Philippines for sale to the general public. Plastic waste is grouped by color and type and sold to plastics recyclers, while steel is sold to metal recyclers. Even the occasional wood found in televisions and other electronics is chipped and used as biofuel, ensuring it does not end up in the landfill.

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