Electronic waste in Ontario: Case study of a primary processing facility
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Electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the fastest expanding, and valuable waste streams due to its content of precious, critical, and base metals. E-waste is comprised of electronic devices operated below 10,000 volts that have reached their end of useful life. While global production and consumption of electronic goods is increasing, in Ontario the electronic waste treatment program has reported decreasing collection under the provincial regulation. This raises questions of efficacy and function of the collection system and the electronic waste primary processors within Ontario. This research employed both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze material flows through an Ontario e-waste primary processor. Annual data for inputs and outputs provided three years of facility data from 2016 to 2018. At a more granular level, two days of material flow accounting were conducted at the primary processor, resulting in a single average “model day” of operation for the summer season. For this daily operation, the facility processed 25.3 Mg of input products, producing 23.3 Mg of outputs, the remaining 2 Mg entering facility stock. The main inputs for the primary processor were printers and peripheral devices, refurbishable flatscreen displays, cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions, small household appliances and complete desktop computers. The main outputs were leaded-glass from CRT, sorted shredded plastics, various pure and mixed copper-bearing materials, refurbished goods like flatscreen displays, clean shredded steel and clean shredded aluminum. For the facility, the daily operations’ map of material flow describes the processes used to extract and sort materials, the relative flows of materials, the processing capacity of a single day, and provides a base for the representation of a day of sales. The resulting model of sales is presented and indicates the high comparative value of refurbished items to bulk shredded materials. The annual data indicates that, while CRT displays are both being displaced in the economy and sold or traded by the primary processor, for flat-screen displays, substantial outputs of low to negative value materials are still produced from the CRT processing on site. These materials include leaded glass, thin-film plastics, and low-quality black plastics. From 2016 to 2018, the composition of inputs indicated that CRT displays fell from 30% to 18%, printers and peripheral devices fell from 28% to 24%, flatscreen displays rose from 4% to 10%, and printed circuit board and computer components increased from 2.5% to 6%. The output composition regarding the desired processed material changed considerably as well, with steel increasing from 20% to 31%, copper falling from 18% to 10%, and glass remaining somewhat stable at 14% to 18%. Results indicate that the primary processor is adapting to shifts in e-waste streams as electronic product composition changes. The processor is implementing new technologies to shred and sort large quantities of material, and making changes including downsizing printer cartridge refurbishment capacity, the installation of a flat-screen display shredder, and an expanded shredding line, with enough processing capacity to replace personnel and therefore reduce operating costs. More broadly, the adaptations at the primary processor are a reaction to the 2020 regulation changes that are expected to significantly increase inputs to the facility. The implementation of an extended producer responsibility regulatory system in 2020 is the cause of the expected increase in material flow at primary processors, and investments at such firms. This is through stricter reporting and a broadened categorization of e-waste in Ontario. The 2002 – 2016 regulatory implementation had serious issues regarding private industry self-governance and competition, and a restricted scope on e-waste categories resulting in falling overall collection of e-waste covered under that program from 2013 to 2018. This research provides a case study of the primary processor entity in Ontario, situating it in a regulatory atmosphere that is in the process of major systematic change. This work provides knowledge that will aid in the understanding of the future of e-waste in Ontario as regulations change. It provides a point of reference for future work to indicate changes in processing methods, the targeting of materials and products at the firm, and the quantity and categories of materials processed at the primary processor entity.
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Carl Tutton (2019). Electronic waste in Ontario: Case study of a primary processing facility. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15095