The Imperative to Reuse Reclaimed MaterialsSustainability
One key component of environmental sustainability is the conservation of natural resources – and even “unnatural resources.” One resource on the top of the list is energy, which comes in two basic flavors – renewable and non-renewable. Renewable energy – derived from sources that are naturally replenished continuously such as solar, wind, water movement, and geothermal heat – is preferable both because it doesn’t deplete finite resources and because it is cleaner. It is cleaner both because its use doesn’t send greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and because it doesn’t create the pollution associated with the drilling and mining of fossil fuels.
Creating electronics requires both a substantive amount of energy and also a broad range of both natural and man-made materials. For starters, here’s a list of metals commonly found in electronics: gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, nickel, tantalum, cobalt, aluminum, tin, zinc, and neodymium. Consider that each of these metals must be mined and the human and environmental costs associated with mining.
Getting usable aluminum, for example, starts with mining bauxite ore followed by what is characterized as a “complicated, costly and energy-intensive” process estimated to use 14,000 kWh of electricity to produce one tonne of aluminum. But as aluminum is relatively easy to reclaim from recycling, using recycled aluminum becomes very attractive from both financial and environmental perspectives.
Chief among the man-made materials is plastic. In electronics, plastic “is used in everything from the housing to the plastic screws, plastic washers and special fasteners.” It prevents “electrical conductivity in certain areas of the electronic or electrical device,” and helps keep electronics lightweight. Yet plastic is highly problematic from both a human health and environmental sustainability perspective. According to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), “e-waste plastics are considered to be one of the fastest-growing waste streams globally.” This is of grave concern because “Toxic substances such as heavy metals and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) have been widely added to plastics used in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE)”making e-waste plastic especially toxic. And, by the way, traditional plastics are made from petroleum, a non-renewable material.
The good news is that some organizations are taking both the reclamation of materials and the reuse of the reclaimed materials seriously. Last year, Dell announced its Latitude 500 series as its “most sustainable laptops” yet.They use reclaimed and renewable materials both in creating the product itself and in its associated packaging. Renewable materials are materials that can be replenished through natural growth cycles such as the new bio-based rubber feet made from castor bean oil in the Latitude 5000 series.
Last year too, Apple For the first time, … introduced certified recycled gold, and more than doubled the use of recycled tungsten, rare earth elements, and cobalt. Nearly 20 percent of all material used in Apple products in 2021 was recycled, the highest-ever use of recycled content.
As the demand for electronics continues to proliferate, pressure is mounting for manufacturers to make their products more sustainable. The sustainability metrics include the use of reclaimed and renewable materials in both the product and its packaging. At illumynt, we ensure that the electronic assets we process get a new life whenever possible, and through the assiduous recycling of unusable assets under R2 compliance, materials are reclaimed and made available for new manufacturing. In addition, we even reclaim and repurpose packaging we receive to ensure we reduce our environmental impact.
Join me in my continuing blog series as I discuss all things related to sustainable electronics.