What is Design For Recycling?

Electronics recycling company, e-End hosted an informative session and tour of their secure facility to professors and students from University of Maryland's Center for Engineering Concepts Development (CECD) with interest of electronic waste and the importance of designing products for recycling

The center is currently conducting research on electronic waste and the topic of "Design for Recycling", which is essentially about how to think about the environmental impact by the way these future engineers design new electronic products. CECD is led by its Director, Dr. Davinder K. Anand, who was present during the tour, accompanied by Dylan Hazelwood, Assistant Director and Dr. Maria Sanchez, Assistant Research Professor. During the research, their students had reached out to another electronics recycling company that declined to allow the students to visit company facilities. Needless to say, the students came to the conclusion that companies with closed practices probably weren't upholding the highest standards of recycling principles. 

e-End welcomed the CECD and received these bright minds into the facility, for what was proven to be an educational session for the attendees.

e-End staff pictured with  UMD CECD leadership  and students

e-End staff pictured with UMD CECD leadership and students

In the informative session, Steve Chafitz, President of e-End, gave an in-depth look into the process of accepting and recycling end-of-life electronics. Topics included the current state of eWaste, degaussing electronic media to destroy data demanufacturing electronics, ferrous vs non-ferrous separation of material and other topics. The focus of conversation pivoted to Design for Recycling and what current challenges e-End is facing in processing electronics for recycling.

First, let's define the CECD's topic of interest:

What is Design For Recycling?

Design for Recycling is when manufacturers think about the end-of-life of their products during the design-stage of a product’s development.

What are the Design For Recycling Principles?

  1. Designing products for easy of disassembly and separation into components and commodities
  2. Making consumer products easily recyclable
  3. Reducing environmental risks From consumer products via proper design
  4. Reduce environmental impacts caused by poor design
  5. Provide guidance to manufacturers of consumer durables

Case in point, a large job that e-End was working on, at the time of the visit, was the proper destruction of over 25,000 cell phones and small personal communication devices, totaling around 10,000 lbs in weight. This work was originally projected to take one week to perform, but actually took 3 days longer, because of one design issue: the battery installation method. More specifically, the ease of physical access to batteries in cell phones. In order to shred the cell phones, the batteries must be removed, as they can become hazardous material if handled improperly. They are then sent to certified battery processing facilities for recycling.

Assortment of cell phones being processed for shredding

Assortment of cell phones being processed for shredding

Here were a couple of challenges in doing so:

It feels like shucking digital oysters
  • Glue. Newer models of Android and Blackberry devices have batteries that are held in place by a strong adhesive. Older model phones had batteries that could just pop in and out of phones. This simple design issue resulted in e-End having to go through a process described by the team as "shucking digital oysters", by prying open the cell phones followed by prying off the battery with a screwdriver. This significantly increased man-hours to perform the task., If the design engineers were aware of the time it would cost for proper recycling they could make design changes. An alternative design which provided for secure mounting of the battery with ease of removal would have reduced the significant labor cost.
  • Enclosure. In the case of Apple iPhones, a screwdriver just won't do. With Apple being so absolute in propriety of their hardware, they design accordingly. Apple doesn't want you inside their devices. This requires specialized tools to open iPhones, resulting in a bottleneck in the recycling process.
So, while Apple’s branding may feel “green”, it does not reflect in design for recycling

Being a company that is held to the highest standard for electronics recycling through R2:2013 certification, e-End painstakingly ensures all material is properly handled as they maintain a "zero-landfill policy"

Due to their solid state memory, cell phones are a specific device that cannot be certified for erasure of 100% of its data. Any company that claims they can and resell such devices are wrong. There are extensive studies that prove 100% of stored data cannot be wiped from cell phones. This is why e-End shreds all cell phones, being a company that deals with secure data destruction and in turn must remove the battery.

After sitting for the informative session and walking through a transparent tour of the secure facility, the group from University of Maryland, expressed their greater awareness and understanding of the need of design for recycling. e-End looks forward to the final report that the CECD will share upon publication in the near future. Hopefully, we get a mention. :)