Most of the electronic devices, such as cellphones, smartphones and tablets, are miniature computers. They allow us to make phone calls, access the Internet or exchange data around the world.
Constant innovation and competition within the U.S. electronics industry, consumers are frequently upgrading their gadgets to take advantage of the newest and hottest mobile products and services.
While some consumers relegate their “old” devices to the kitchen drawers, most are aware that their devices can be recycled, refurbished or reused. By returning or selling “old” devices to a wireless carrier, reseller or other authorized company, consumers and the electronics industry are helping the environment by reducing e-waste.
So what happens once a device is refurbished, recycled or reused?
When an electronic device is refurbished, it is cleaned, tested and updated. The device’s updating process might include modernizing software or repairing hardware.
Depending on the device’s technological specifications it might be sold in other countries. GSM devices are predominately used in Europe, Africa and Asia while CDMA devices are more prevalent in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
The “last” stop for a device is recycling. Computers and mobile devices, such as smartphones, cellphones and tablets are composed of a variety of metals, plastic, glass and other materials.
Many of these components are recyclable. The metals and minerals are melted to create a metal alloy brick, which is covered in “slag.” The reusable metal is separated and purified while the slag is used for shingles and road construction.
Recycling batteries is a different process. Most electronic devices use lithium ion batteries because they offer a variety of advantages such as being lightweight, capable of holding their charge longer than other varieties and the ability to be recharged numerous times. In addition, these batteries have no toxic metals. In some of the newer and slimmer wireless devices, manufacturers have used the thinner lithium-ion-polymer batteries which provide the same benefits as the lithium ion batteries.
The recycling a lithium ion battery requires the various materials to be separated so they can be reused. The battery’s contents are exposed using a shredder or a high-speed hammer depending on the battery size. The contents are then submerged in caustic (basic, not acidic) water. This caustic solution neutralizes the electrolytes, and ferrous and non-ferrous metals are recovered. The clean scrap metal is sold to metal recyclers. Then the solution is filtered. The carbon is recovered and pressed into moist sheets of carbon cake. Some of the carbon is recycled with cobalt. The lithium in the solution (lithium hydroxide) is converted to lithium carbonate, a fine white powder. What results is technical grade lithium carbonate, which is used to make lithium ingot metal and foil for batteries. It also provides lithium metal for resale and for the manufacture of sulfur dioxide batteries.