E waste plastics transformed into value-added products

Projects

Apr 3, 2020

E waste plastics transformed into value-added products

Caption: Electronics Manager of The Bower, Griffin Pickard

Team

  • Community Organisation: The Bower (Reuse and Repair Centre)
  • Government: City of Sydney Council and many other local governments
  • Research Organisation: UNSW SMaRT Centre
  • Facilitator: NSW Circular

Background

The Bower is an environmental not-for-profit community organisation committed to reducing landfill. Their range of services and programs are built upon the ethos of reuse and repair of unwanted household goods and rehome them. The Bower has been adopting circular economy practices since 1998 and has agreements with over 20 Sydney metropolitan councils to collect unwanted items. It has four locations in the Sydney Metropolitan area each focusing on a unique area in the reuse and repair space.

As such, The Bower is at the frontline of combatting the growing challenge of consumer e-waste (electronic). While regulated e-waste recyclers can setup systems to aggregate enterprise and institutional e-waste, consumer e-waste poses a unique challenge. The Bower must contend with sporadic supply and a wide continually changing mix of consumer e-waste.

The Bower collects, repairs and sells household items including electronic goods for which there is still a market and strips back those that can’t be repaired, and works with councils to manage their e-waste. But a growing number of devices offered to The Bower fall in the last category for which there is no second life possible such as printers, old landline phones and old modems all of which contain a large component of plastic. With technology becoming obsolete at a faster pace, the number of items that can’t be refurbished and resold is increasing, creating a backlog.

Caption: electronic waste ready for shredding

The solution

NSW Circular is partnering with the proponents of this pilot project to help develop capacity for The Bower and other ‘repair and reuse’ organisations to be equipped with the right knowledge and facilities to cope with the coming e-waste challenge. This involves looking at alternative ways to use e-waste items such as plastics and metals which might otherwise go to landfill.

The pilot project team has achieved its first milestone where plastics have been separated and sorted by The Bower team, then picked up by the SMaRT Team and converted into 3D printing filaments. These materials would otherwise go to landfill, but can now be created into valuable materials locally leading to new products or diverted to new supply chain partners (and new commercial opportunities).

The ongoing development and viability of this arrangement is being pursued and NSW Circular is connecting The Bower with experts in e-waste recycling to identify better ways of leveraging the value in their materials, along with local partners in manufacturing, distribution, and logistics.

Caption: Griffin shreds some e-waste

But perhaps the most important aspect of the pilot project is the collaboration around education and information to bring greater awareness to the growing waste and e-waste problem, and actions that can be taken to reduce volumes and adopt more ‘circular’ practices.  As such, the collaboration is looking at ways to empower other community led initiatives to adopt the philosophy of the circular economy, not just through the use of repair and resuse, but by exploring innovative solutions such as the current one where e-waste plastics are being reformed into valuable filament feedstock for 3D printing.

Information posters have been developed and the first series explain how dissembling unwanted modems into useable parts and materials is a simple and effective way to greatly reduce the volume of material going to landfill.

Caption: Shredded e-waste, ready to be reformed or recycled into other uses, such as being reformed into plastic filament for 3D printing 

Why is it circular?

The pilot project is defining the process and capability for the diversion and upcycling of e-waste within a new closed loop.

This pilot project aims to divert the unwanted waste materials from their current destination of landfill, to be reformed and used as new materials and products for use in other applications (such as filament for 3D printing).

This reduces impacts and costs such as additional transportation and landfill impacts. However, the aspirational education and information aspects being explored as part of this project is potentially more important by being able to inspire others and increase a greater rate of circular practices.

With regards to the 3D filaments, introducing value-added products made from waste in this way, the project is able to demonstrate that waste as a resource can be valued, upcycled, reformed and reintroduced into a new supply chain, viable for commercial purposes. Coupled with the education and information work stream, the project aims to spur similar actions at the community level.

Caption: Griffin with UNSW SMaRT Centre academic and researcher Md Shahruk Nur-A-Tomal

Benefits and outcomes

The outcome of the pilot project is to develop a proof of concept that shows how waste can be recycled, upcycled and reformed for other uses, and that organisations such as The Bower, or any group, can facilitate the uptake of technical recovery solutions in their communities.

The production of new products and materials from e-waste will also form part of a community awareness and demonstration initiative, showing that high quality, unique materials made from such waste can have new uses within new supply chains and products.

By demonstrating that these outputs have practical use and therefore commercial and industry interest, we aim to show that ‘waste to product’ transformations are scalable, replicable and potentially commercially viable.

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