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Many electronics recycled at free events are destined for recycling in developing nations

The recycling of damaged and obsolete electronic devices has been a hot topic here in America. Many states and environmental watchdog agencies want to keep potentially hazardous materials out of the landfills in America. The issue is that it is possible that hazardous materials used in electronics could seep into the ground water.

To help prevent electronics from ending up in landfills, there have been many recycling events held around the U.S. that are sponsored by electronics makers and are sometimes sponsored by companies who plan to recycle the products for their plastics, glass, and precious metals.

USA Today reports that activists are warning that items collected at free electronic recycling events are often ending up in salvage yards in developing nations. Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition says, “If nobody is paying (the collectors) to take this stuff, especially if they're getting a lot of televisions, then they are very likely exporting because that's how they make the economics work.”

The fear activists have is that the electronics that end up in developing nations will be recycled by laborers who will be exposed to toxic substances and where the toxic substances could leech into the ground water. The laborers who harvest the electronics are only paid dollars per day according to activists.

Don’t feel bad for receiving free recycling services though. The companies recycling the obsolete electronics are not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts or to make the world a better place -- it’s done for profits.

Most of the companies offering free recycling are mining the products for precious metals like gold and silver. Some electronics recycling firms mine more gold form e-waste like cell phones than is produced from a gold mine.



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RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By Oregonian2 on 7/7/2008 9:20:51 PM , Rating: 2
Note that "normal" solder used for electronics (circuit boards, etc) is typically 63% metallic lead (that percentage minimizes melting temperature of solder which is why it was popular). Rest is tin other than in specialty solders that have a tiny bit of other things. It's usually applied in paste form and reflowed in ovens (other than in rework stations).

That's not "exceedingly small levels".

RoHS "solder" which is mostly used now has no lead.

Note also that there really is no monetary cost to speak of in going RoHS other than paperwork compliance issues -- those places where lead (and the other five materials) is actually needed w/o reasonable alternatives, lead is allowed and given an exception. In those cases, AFAIK, the amount in a part is very tiny or as in the case of some parts the lead is glassified. Also note that it wasn't something that was sprung on the world in an instant. The time to comply was something like ten or fifteen years giving time to use the next normal product spin to "go RoHS".

So in the broad view, there really isn't much of any cost in getting rid of those toxic materials so the cost/benefit is good. Why bother spending money avoiding exposure "real time" when the material can just not be used w/o significant cost? RoHS may actually be a cost savings once systems are switched (which they pretty much are now, almost completely).


By StevoLincolnite on 7/7/2008 10:10:25 PM , Rating: 2
My next door neighbor pulls apart Broken T.V's, VCR's, DVD Players, Printers and computers, practically anything electronic for the Copper and Aluminum, he isn't making a fortune out of selling it as scrap though, but he averages about 200 bucks a week cash from selling the clean copper alone, which isn't bad considering it was just going to goto the dump anyway.

You see most of the "Metals" worth any value in weight in electronics is Copper wire, which is usually clean, and sells for around 8-9 bucks a Kilogram. (sometimes more).

Mind you he still has to dump the Plastics and the PCB's as well as glass at the dump because of a lack of any recycling programs here, but they end up getting crushed up before going there anyway, thus reducing the size of the waste that ends up in the landfill, and at a cost of only 20 bucks a month, you can't complain when you make 200 bucks out of it a week.


RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By masher2 (blog) on 7/7/2008 10:36:57 PM , Rating: 3
> "That's not "exceedingly small levels"

It most certainly is, due to the exceedingly small amounts of solder used. A cell phone might have a few grams of solder inside. Even a mountain of used cell phones is going to have far less lead in it than a single medium-sized galena deposit...and there are hundreds of thousands of even larger deposits around the world

> ""normal" solder used for electronics (circuit boards, etc) is typically 63% metallic lead"

So? Galena -- the most common lead ore -- is 86% pure lead. And there are millions of tons of it in a large deposit.

In any case, your statement is incorrect. Nearly all solder used in commercial electronics today contain nothing but trace amounts of lead -- the old 63/37 solder is typically only used by hobbyists these days.

But even the leaded solder was safe from an environmental perspective...one can even argue it was better for the environment, as lead-free solder results in a higher defect rate, meaning more repairs, manufacturing, shipping, etc.


RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By Oregonian2 on 7/8/2008 12:04:27 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
in any case, your statement is incorrect. Nearly all solder used in commercial electronics today contain nothing but trace amounts of lead -- the old 63/37 solder is typically only used by hobbyists these days.


You are arguing against yourself. Yes, currently used solder used in industry (btw, I'm an electronics engineer of 30+ years experience) has trace quantities (essentially zero) amount of lead, but it's that way BECAUSE of RoHS restrictions and because most modern manufacturing is RoHS compliant (that which you're arguing against).

If you'd like to argue that consuming lead isn't a problem and that medical claims that consumption of lead is bad are wrong, I'd like to hear it.

Also note that it's been demonstrated (by a NC State Univ study) that lead leaches out of leaded glass (as in crystal) over time such that keeping wines long term in such vessels contributes lead to one's consumption. But that doesn't mean that it's a good thing.

Do note, however, that just something that contains lead doesn't mean that it's accessible to humans. Holding a crystal glass isn't a problem, it doesn't rub off. I suspect lead ore is similar. Even holding a piece of lead might not be a problem (and even when there is a problem, it may be statistical). However if one puts wine in a decanter as mentioned above, a delivery mechanism is there. When dumps burn-down their garbage and it contains lead stuff there may be a problem. When people melt down and make their own lead weights, there may be a problem. Etc.

When it costs basically nothing to get rid of the problem and just a matter of using alternatives, it seems like a reasonable thing to do. There are situations where lead is essential without reasonable alternatives, and in those cases RoHS rules provide exceptions (although those are coming under review to see if the need is still there on a per-exception basis).


RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By masher2 (blog) on 7/8/2008 12:18:44 PM , Rating: 2
> "You are arguing against yourself. "

No, because even the original leaded solder was safe. You've still ignored the point that natural, environmental sources of lead are vast. It's already contained in our bodies and the foods we eat. A bit of leaded solder in a landfill might contribute a few atoms more...an amount far too small to be relevant.

> "Yes, currently used solder...has trace quantities (essentially zero) amount of lead"

And yet environmentalists are still campaigning against it.

> "Holding a crystal glass isn't a problem, it doesn't rub off. I suspect lead ore is similar."


Oops -- you've already pointed out that lead will leach out of leaded glass. It does so much more readily out of lead ore. Why? Because the ore is softer, usually much more friable, and has a far higher percentage of lead in it.

> "When it costs basically nothing to get rid of the problem "

Can you not read? Dumping leaded solder has cost the industry billions...and cost us consumers far more, in the way of less reliable electronic components and higher prices.


By Oregonian2 on 7/9/2008 2:13:57 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Can you not read? Dumping leaded solder has cost the industry billions...and cost us consumers far more, in the way of less reliable electronic components and higher prices.


I'm a practicing electronic engineer. Been one for more than thirty years. Reliability isn't a problem -- it only was an unknown up front for those who like to worry and get folk in a frenzy. Telecom folk were given an extra five or ten years "just in case" should reliability be a problem. But it hasn't been. If I want to have a board manufactured it will be cheaper for me to have it done on a RoHS line than on a lead'ed line. There were costs but it was only capital costs in terms of switch-over, runtime costs aren't really higher generally speaking that I've seen (as someone in the industry). The change-over costs are mitigated by the fact that machinery would have to have been replaced anyway due to becoming obsolete (much in the same way as say a 4" or 8" wafer fab becomes obsolete). Manufacturing technology moves on as well.


RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By theapparition on 7/8/2008 7:49:32 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Note also that there really is no monetary cost to speak of in going RoHS other than paperwork compliance issues.


quote:
So in the broad view, there really isn't much of any cost in getting rid of those toxic materials so the cost/benefit is good.

What???

I mean, really..........do you have any clue?

RoHS has cost the electronics industry TRILLIONS of dollars, and much more is to come.

Let's start off.
All lead free solders require MUCH higher heat. This alone has forced manufacturers to redo much of their entire reflow lines. Parts that even weren't affected by the actual RoHS directive, may now not work because of the higher heat and will melt while reflowing. This has forced a complete analysis of each and every part on existing designs. The most affected parts are sensitive IC's that now fail after re-flow.

Rework is significantly more difficult. Once again because of the higher heat, solder pad delamination is much more common, and many companies won't even attempt rework on sensitive components, choosing instead to toss the assembly rather than waste time with a 20% rework yield. Who do you think pays for that scrap?

The lead free solders don't bond as well either, requiring a complete analysis of designs where environmental requirements are concerned. Designs that were certified to work in shock environments before, are now non-certified and fail.

Component manufactures have scrambled to offer new parts that are compliant, and obsoleted ones that were not profit generators......which in turn has hurt niche companies that depend on those parts. Part obsolescence alone is estimated to cost the industry TRILLIONS in the next few years.

Let's not forget all the training that has to happen, too. If you ever looked at lead-free solder joints...they look terrible. Every solder operator must go through J-STD-001 training again to get certified.

Finally, yes, it's the paper trail. It's also forced many manufacturers to update their internal systems to comply with the requirements.

I'm not necessary against some of the regulations, but to claim that it's cost is only in paperwork is fallacious at best.


RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By rcc on 7/8/2008 10:47:20 AM , Rating: 2
Not to mention the longevity of the product isn't going to be what it was. The 30 year old radio/tv that still works is a thing of the past. The aging and corrosion properties of the "new and improved" solders put an finite limit on how long electronics can last.


"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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