Size Reduction Equipment for Electronics/Glass
More than 500 companies in the United States are electronics recyclers, according to the International Association of Electronics Recyclers. These recyclers shred and grind everything from computers and laser printers to cellular telephone and circuit boards in order to sift out aluminum, steel, precious metals and plastic.
When it comes to glass, in 2001 Americans recovered about 22 percent of the 10.9 million tons of glass entering the municipal solid waste stream. Most recycled glass comes from beverage and food containers, but consumer electronics is an important source of post-consumer glass. Separating glass from computer monitors, personal digital assistants and other gadgets, starts with shredding and grinding.
“Electronics scrap is one of our bigger markets,” says Sean Richter, technical sales representative for Shred-Tech in Cambridge, Ontario. The biggest trend Richter sees is equipment that handles smaller recycled items. “A lot of the large electronic materials such as telecom equipment and mainframes have been weeded out in the last five years,” he says. “So the size requirement has dropped.”
To handle a recycling stream with more personal computers, cell phones and other smaller devices, Shred-Tech is selling smaller shredders. “Originally we were using the ST500, a big monster, to chew the stuff up because it was so heavy and dense. You needed a primary and then a secondary shredder.” Shred-Tech also sold a 100,000 lb. granulator, its STG 400, for turning electronics recycling streams into small flakes.
Today, primary shredders have dropped in size. “We send a lot of the material to a four-shaft shredder,” Richter says. These shredders separate plastic from steel cases, and generate one inch to one and a half inch particles that are sent through magnetic and eddy current separators. Many recyclers also use manual pick lines to sort out materials— another big change. Originally, electronics recyclers wanted to put items to be recycled into one side of a large system and have clean material streams come out the other side. Now they are more interested in less intensive machine processing, Richter says.
“We’ve downsized equipment because the needs for the customer have downsized,” Richter says. “We’ve gone to a slightly coarse separation, maintaining the throughput of three to five tons per hour going down to one and a half inches.”
At Granutech-Saturn Systems in Grand Prairie, Texas, Mike Hinsey, sales manager, said electronics recycling is an important business for his company as well. “Our Saturn shredder line remains active with a few new models including a heavy-duty quad shaft design featuring 400 horsepower,” Hinsey said. “This is designed to meet the waste-to-energy market, the electronic scrap industry and the tire recycling market.” The Saturn shredder’s internal screen eliminates the need for a separate external classifier.
While waste-to-energy legislation is the push for many waste processing applications, a strong metals market is driving non-ferrous processing, according to Hinsey. As a result, the company is seeing strong domestic and export markets for its shredders. “We are very optimistic about the next 12 to 24 months, which is all you can hope for in this industry,” he says.
Jordan Reduction Solutions in Birmingham, Alabama, is experiencing active markets in preparing rejected bottles and other glass for recycling for large product companies such as Anheuser-Busch, says Richard Pyle, manager of sales and operations. “Our shredders are doing product destruction for them,” says Pyle. “However, they don’t throw the glass away. Depending on the application and what they want to do, we can put machines in there with either a mill or a grinder. We can take it pretty much all the way back to sand.”
“Everybody’s just beginning to work in electronics, although there are some companies out there that have been doing it for awhile,” Pyle says. “But there is regulation being imposed right now on a lot of the electronics recycling that everyone is having to deal with.” Heavy metals in circuit boards and other electronics sources, such as lead in computer monitors, is just one of the issues recyclers face.
Pyle says his company has moved away from four-shaft shredders to twin-shaft shredders for electronics recycling, but designs mostly custom implementations rather than off-the-shelf shredders and grinders for electronics. The ultimate destination of the recycled materials is the main question when selling shredders to electronic recyclers. “It’s the same as everything else,” he says. “What are you trying to do with the product? If you’re wanting to separate the precious metals, that’s one process. You’re going to have to shred it and grind it down and separate the metals.”
Demand for both glass and electronics shredders is likely to continue its long term growth trend. Recovery of glass, for instance, grew from 750,000 tons in 1980 to more than 2.4 million tons in 2001. Electronics recycling, while it’s been around for more than 20 years, is currently getting a boost from companies that want to portray a greener image, and from regulators concerned about pollution from improperly discarded electronics.
“I have a stack of computers sitting here now that a customer sent in for us to test,” Pyle says.
He’ll attempt to shred and grind this complex equipment and pull out comparatively pure streams of aluminum, plastics and other materials for recycling. “There’s a whole array of other products that can be manufactured from that,” he says. “So I don’t see it going any way but up.”