System Developed to Recover and Reuse Electronic Wastes

By Sanders, Jane M. | Public Management, October 2003 | Go to article overview
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System Developed to Recover and Reuse Electronic Wastes


Sanders, Jane M., Public Management


Concern is rising among governments worldwide that electronic wastes--discarded computers, televisions, cell-phones, audio equipment, and batteries--are leaching lead and other substances, which may seep into groundwater supplies.

Just one color computer monitor or television can contain up to eight pounds of lead. Consider this amount in light of the estimated 12 million tons of e-wastes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates may soon be dumped into American landfills.

Worry has reached such a level that some European countries are forcing manufacturers to take back discarded electronics. In the United States, California and Massachusetts have banned their disposal in municipal solid-waste landfills. But some officials are looking beyond these stopgap measures to find other solutions.

A study under way at the Georgia Institute of Technology may offer a model for other states and nations. Researchers are conducting the study in cooperation with the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is funding the project with additional support from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers have devised a "reverse production" system that creates the infrastructure to recover and reuse every material contained within e-wastes, including metals like lead, copper, aluminum, and gold as well as various plastics, glass, and wire.

But this simple concept requires new thinking, says Jane Ammons, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and a governor-appointed member of the Georgia Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Council. She and colleague Matthew Realff, an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical Engineering, are devising methods to plan reverse production systems that will collect e-trash, tear apart devices ("de-manufacture" them), and use the components and materials again--all while making the process economically practical.

Though this system is being designed for Georgia, its application elsewhere has sparked interest nationally and internationally.

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