While in Poland, our Canadian delegation was invited to tour a new state of the art electronic recycling facility, PPHU – Polblume. It is one of 158 similar recycling and recovery companies within Poland. It is here that old appliances, computers, TVs, and batteries will be separated into their individual materials, bundled and/or shredded and shipped off to be reused into new products. As part of its mandate in joining the European Union, one Poland’s requirements was improved waste management.
So far, however, this recycling facility is processing about 1000-1500 tons of e-waste per day. It does have a capacity of up to 10,000 tons per day, so there is plenty of room for increased volume. The company is developing two areas of specialty, recycling batteries and research into rare earth metal extraction from circuit boards, in particular, yttrium and europium.
Polblume has an agreement with Panasonic to provide it with the used black matter (the battery’s juice) from batteries, but because it doesn’t have enough input products right now, there is more demand than supply. I asked the owner if the problem was because there weren’t enough batteries being used in Poland, or because too many were being thrown into landfill. He told us that it was a bit of both. Currently, they take old batteries from countries throughout the EU, but he admitted that more has to be done within Poland to encourage people to recycle their batteries.
In a perfect world, batteries would be 100% recycled and the old, used black matter from dead batteries would be retrieved and reused in new batteries. If material can be extracted, reused and recharged infinitely without having to extract virgin material from the ground, it saves an enormous amount of energy in the retrieval and processing of new material while continuously using materials already extracted. It is an example of what the EU is striving for: the circular economy.
Another area that is still in the research phase at this facility is the extraction of rare earth metals for computer circuit boards. Because the metals are used in such small amounts and need to be extracted from circuit boards using high heat or highly corrosive materials, it hasn’t yet been considered a viable option. However, extraction methods are improving and becoming increasingly cost-effective. This facility is doing research to improve techniques, but is banking on success in this area. Sufficient extraction and sales of rare earth metals would make this recycling business highly profitable.
Finally, leaded glass from TV screens used to find a home in cathode ray tubes — but since the dawn of the flatscreen TV the need for leaded glass has plummeted dramatically. It has found a new home as an aggregate in concrete. Although concrete is pourous, the leaded-glass is stable does not leach into the soil or ground water near where it is used.