In 2016, 44.7 million tons of electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) were generated in the world. A scrap that amounts to weight of nine Pyramids of Giza, and that is enough to cover the island of Manhattan, according to the report Global E-Waste Monitor 2017 of the United Nations University. In Spain, each citizen generates 20 kilos of this waste annually (17% more than four years ago). Worldwide, only 20% of them are processed properly, despite containing such valuable materials as gold, silver, copper, platinum or palladium.
"It is estimated that the recoverable materials in the WEEE have a value of 48,000 million euros," says Andreu Vilà, general manager of Ecotic, entity constituted by some of the companies in the consumer electronics sector and dedicated to the proper management of this waste. The magnitude of the figure (above the GDP of the Canary Islands, for example) reveals the impact it has on the environment. One more fact: a nickel-cadmium battery from a mobile phone is enough to contaminate 50,000 liters of water.
Do you want to know where the different materials that make up a mobile are located? Click on each element of the illustration to find out.
Source: Prepared by the authors with information from MEC Mining
In fact, the mobiles and their batteries are a paradigmatic example of recovery and reuse of elements. The latter are subjected to different procedures to obtain ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic or paper and, through a hydrometallurgical process, nickel, aluminum, lithium, cobalt, cadmium or titanium is recovered. The other components of the phones are crushed to obtain fractions of plastic, aluminum, copper, tin or zinc. Precious metals such as gold, palladium or coltan, also recoverable, are also found in small quantities.
Where to deposit them?
Therefore, how and where these devices are recycled is key. But more important is that they do not stay at home: it is estimated that there are up to four disused electric or electronic devices per inhabitant. There are two main options to get rid of them: first, resort to one of the clean spots that exist in cities, locatable through the Internet or the web and the app Clean Point of Ecotic. Second, take the old appliance to the store where you buy your replacement or give it to the dealer when the new appliance is delivered to your home. The user has, however, a period of 30 days to take it to the establishment. It is not allowed to leave them on public roads or deliver them to unregistered operators.
Small electronic devices (less than 25 cm) can be delivered to any store with an area of more than 400 m², free of charge and without the need to purchase any other appliance. Mobile phones can be deposited in any of the containers that the Tragamóvil foundation has distributed through telephone stores, technical services, town halls, universities and commercial areas.
Spain recycles as much (or more) than its neighbors
Is the situation in Spain worse than in other European countries? According to Eurostat data for 2016, the national WEEE recovery rate stands at 44.1% of the average weight of the devices placed on the market in the last three years. A figure very close to that of Germany (44.9%) or France (45.3%), and ahead of that of Belgium (42.6%) or Italy (41.9%). In 2017, the Spanish Federation of Household Appliances Merchants (FECE) managed almost 247,000 tons of waste, which met the European objectives in subject matter.
Large appliances occupy 60% of electrical and electronic scrap. And the most surprising thing: the televisions, with 30,000 tons per year, represent a significant volume of waste, since many still arrive with cathode ray tubes, which contain heavy metals, lead glass and phosphorus on the screen, and which can contaminate up to 80,000 liters of water.
When a refrigerator threatens the ozone layer
The WEEE that present a greater difficulty of recycling are refrigerators and refrigeration appliances, because they contain gases and oils that, if not treated properly, can be released into the atmosphere. Your waste must be managed in specific facilities and in sealed chambers.
In fact, the polluting potential of air conditioners is due to the presence of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) oils and gases, greenhouse gases that contribute to the global warming of the planet and the depletion of the ozone layer. To absorb the amount of CO2 that a poorly managed device can emit into the atmosphere, it is necessary to work of 200 trees during a whole year or, what is the same, to retire near 250 cars of the circulation during a day.
Finally, after collecting and channeling, the WEEE is transferred to authorized managers. In these recycling plants, waste is subjected to a decontamination treatment and, after an assessment of the materials it contains, between 85% and 95% of them are recovered, which re-enter the consumption cycle forming part of new devices.
The collaboration between users and companies is vital for the treatment of WEEE.
Thanks to its customers, El Corte Inglés manages more than 8% of this type of waste that is collected in Spain.
As it does?
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English, has been prepared by a collaborator of EL PAÍS.
The collaboration between users and companies is vital for the treatment of WEEE. Thanks to its customers, El Corte Inglés manages more than 8% of this type of waste that is collected in Spain. As it does?