WEEE ID – Automated sorting of electronic waste

Circular Economy

Automated sorting of electronic waste enables higher recycling rates

Waste in the form of electrical and electronic equipment (abbreviated WEEE) is a category for which the amount of waste is continuously growing. On average an EU-inhabitant currently generates approximately 14-24 kg of WEEE per year. Electronic waste often contains substances which are damaging both to the environment and our health (such as lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, and brominated flame retardants) which places high demands on dealing with the products at the end of their life cycles. In order to avoid having dangerous substances spread into the environment, appropriate recycling- and processing processes are necessary. Another important aspect is the great environmental- and climate-related utility that can be attained when discarded electronic devices are recycled. By recycling precious metals (such as gold and silver), base metals (for example copper, aluminium and iron), critical materials (for example cobalt, platinum, palladium and rare earth elements), and base materials (for example glass and plastics) can be reused and replace virgin raw materials. This in turn contributes to the preservation of resources and reduced emissions of both green-house gases and other pollutants.

Since the product composition and material contents can differ quite substantially between different kinds of electronic waste, it is important to be able to deal with these using processes which enables efficient recycling and a satisfactory disposal of hazardous substances. Presently it is on the contrary common that all types of WEEE go through the same process, which results in losses of both material and values, and that recycled fractions of materials risk being contaminated by hazardous substances. There are clearly issues not currently addressed here, and it is necessary to enable the sorting of disposed electronic equipment based on the materials they contain and the appropriate processing method, in order to achieve a higher degree of recycled materials and a higher value for the recycled materials. And in addition to this, the sorting procedures that presently occur at recycling facilities are primarily done manually. Introducing an automated process which replaces the manual handling of waste would result in several major advantages since the manual labour can be demanding, costly and to a certain extent, be risky for the worker.

This is where WEEE ID enters the picture. The project intends to develop an automated recognition- and sorting system based on real-time machine-vision-systems and data processing with artificial intelligence for fast and thorough sorting of electronic waste. The product categories included are, for instance, laptops, cell phones and lamps. With an efficient sorting procedure that takes the materials contained in electronic products into account, a higher degree of recycling can be attained since different types of electronic waste is handled differently depending on the material composition.

The project is financed by VINNOVA.




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