In following current environmental regulations and in accordance with the latest technological developments, the recycling and disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment must be carried out with 2 objectives:  on the one hand, the amount of waste should be reduced to a minimum, and on the other, the protection of natural resources must be served because a lot electrical equipment contains valuable secondary raw materials. There are different treatment procedures for different types of electrical equipment.

ERA works with partners who guarantee the envionmentally-friendly processing of waste electrical equipment and batteries.


Large Electrical Equipment

For example: washing machines, dishwashers, electric cookers
The first step in dealing with large electrical equipment must be the removal of all harmful materials.  This means removing all of the component parts which contain harmful substances (batteries, accumulators, condensors, conductors, ink cartridges, toner cartridges, etc.) and handing them over to a specialist in dealing with hazardous waste.
The equipment is then shredded. It is reduced to very small pieces and then automatically sorted (using magnets, optical processes) so that the secondary raw materials can be put back into the raw material life-cycle.
The remainder, which consists largely of plastic or synthetic materials, is recycled as far as possible.
Materials which cannot be recycled are used in the creation of thermal energy.

Cooling and freezing equipment

For example: fridges, freezers

The treatment of cooling equipment takes place in 2 stages. In the first stage, the cooling substances of the refrigeration process are sucked out and components containing harmful substances are removed. These components receive additional specialist processing in the second stage.


Stage 1: Treatment of the refrigeration unit - draining

The cooling system is drained using a vacuum system. The cooling substances and cooling oil are sucked out using pressure in a closed system. This system removes the CFCs (chlorofluorcarbons), which damage the ozone layer, puts them into pressurised containers and destroys them in a 2000°C high-temperature oven. More modern equipment no longer uses CFCs, in which case the cooling substances are sucked out and separated.
Following drainage, the compressors, all wood and glass contents and all the components which contain harmful substances such as condensors and mercury switches, are removed and separately collected.



Stage 2: Final processing - treatment of the insulating foam

In the final processing stage, the cooling equipment is shredded into small pieces and the different materials from its housing are separated. The shredding is carried out in a closed system. This ensures that the insulating foam, which is released by the shredding process and contains environmentally harmful CFC-based insulating and foaming agents, is captured. Dust is removed from the CFC-air mixture and then it is dried and cooled before being captured in a charcoal filter. Finally, the CFCs are liquified by cooling to -35 degrees C.
This process yields iron, non-ferrous metals, plastics and polyurethane as secondary raw materials.


For example: flatscreen TVs, touchscreen TVs, computer screens

The correct dismantling of screens involves significant manual work and includes the removal of the back, taking out the printed circuit board chassis (several printed circuit boards in a metal frame), ventilation of the picture tube (risk of implosion), taking out the cathode ray tube and separating the getter-grid from it. The components are made free of harmful substances by separating out the batteries, accumulators, electrolyte condensors and the LCD display unit.
The picture tube is separated by unscrewing it from its housing. In a further treatment step, the glass cone which contains lead oxide, the screen glass which contains barium, and the toxic fluorescent coating from the screen glass are separated out. Glass which is purified and separated in this way can be re-used as a raw material in the glass industry. The fluorescent coating is dealt with as hazardous waste.

Two variations for the re-use of the picture tube are currently used:

1. Separation process
The removed picture tube can be separated into screen glass and cone glass by means of a filament or a glass partition. The metallic shadow mask is taken out. The fluorescent dust is sucked from the screen glass.
2. Shredding process
A special shredder machine enables the separation of cone glass and screen glass by using a flow-operated magnetic separator to separate the metals. A dry-clean stage removes most of the coating from the screen glass. This is followed by a wet-clean process which serves to remove any remaining coating

Small electrical devices

For example: MP3 players, mobile phones, electric toothbrushes, digital watches

Small electrical devices tend to consist of a high proportion of harmful substances which must be removed as a first step in their recycling. This is done manually either before breaking the device into small particles or afterwards. In removing the harmful substances before the shredding, the device is usually broken up in a simple way (using a hammer and screwdriver) and the recycleable contents are separated out from the harmful substances. In the other case, the shredded material is put on a conveyor belt and the harmful substances are removed.
A special shredder or a transverse current cutting machine is used to reduce the device into small particles. In both cases, after the removal of the harmful substances, the metal content is separated from other materials and subjected to additional processing stages to separate it into different metal fractions.

Gas discharge lamps

For example: Energy-saving lamps, neon strip-lights, xenon floodlights/headlights

There are different processes for recycling gas discharge lamps. Two of the cheapest methods are the Kappen-Trenn Process for those which are rod-shaped  and the Shredder Process for all other shapes (i.e. not rod-shaped).
Cut off - Process
The fluorescent tubes are first sorted according to diameter and length and then put on a conveyor belt and automatically fed into the recycling system, counted by sensors and the dimensions input into the management system for processing.
Subsequently, the metal caps are cut off from the tube, the lamp glass is broken and the fluorescent powder, which contains mercury, is vacuumed away. The vacuum machine and the filter system are used to capture the fluorescent material in sealed steel containers. The waste air, which contains mercury, is managed by the filter system and cleaned using a charcoal filter. 
Shredder Process
First, the lamps are broken into very small pieces using a crushing machine. Then, each part is separated according to mixed glass, metal or fluorescent material. The processing plant operates in a low pressure environment in order to prevent mercury emissions. The mercury in the lamps accumulates through the crushing of the lamps and the vacuuming of the fluorescent material and is primarily present in the mixture of dust from the fluorescent material and glass. A small amount of mercury is present in the resultant secondary raw materials and can be removed by additional treatment. The traces of mercury in the air are safely gathered in a charcoal filter.
In both cases, the recycling of the mixed glass can be used in different application areas, e.g. in the shape of glass blocks, glass wool insulating material, other technical uses for glass or as an additive in the building material industry. The mercury dust fraction is disposed of as special waste.


Device batteries

For example: zinc-carbon batteries, alkaline-manganese batteries, round cell batteries, nickel metal hydride batteries, nickel-cadmium accumulators

Device batteries are not sorted during collection. It is only after collection that the batteries and accumulators are sorted into special groups. Zinc-carbon and alkaline-manganese batteries are grouped together as Primary Batteries while accumulators, such as nickel-cadmium, lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries, are grouped together as Secondary Batteries. This sorting is essential for the subsequent recycling because the batteries undergo different recycling processes according to their contents.

The biggest challenge in recycling is separating the harmful substances (e.g. mercury and cadmium) from the valuable substances (mainly zinc, manganese and iron). 

Primary Batteries are heat-treated to around 70oC in a rotary kiln. This releases the mercury and cadmium contents in a vapour form which is further isolated in a connected flue gas scrubber. The heat-treatment removes the mercury completely as well as around 90% of the cadmium from the old batteries. After shredding, a magnetic separation and a sieve result in a residue of scrap iron, zinc and manganese.

The scrap iron can be used as a secondary raw material in the iron and steel industry while the zinc-manganese residue is used in metallurgical plants in the production of zinc oxide. Zinc oxide has many applications, for example, as a raw material for zinc electrolysis, as an additive in pharmaceutical preparations, in the field of surface chemistry, etc. 

Secondary Batteries are treated in certified metallurgical plants (heat-treatment) as each type is subject to special treatment processes such that the recovery of metals (nickel, cadmium, lithium, lead and iron) is the priority. Mercury is salvaged from the components which contain it by vapourisation and distillation processes and then recycled or disposed of.

Vehicle batteries

For example: starter batteries for the car industry

The used accumulators are delivered complete with acid in an acid-proof, sealed housing. In the subsequent processing, a crushing machine is used to create a homogeneous fractional separation into accumulator grids, lead paste, separated plastics (polyethylene, cellulosic plastic), housing material and sulphuric acid. The lead paste is desulphurised using caustic soda. This produces lead oxide and sodium sulphate so that sulphur dioxide emissions are minimised in the subsequent smelting process. 

Smelting: Accumulator grids and the desulphurised lead paste are melted down in a short drum oven and, with the aid of additives, a low-melting point, dumpable silicate slag is produced. Further processing  of this produces pig lead for the refinement process. 

Refinement: In the refinery, the pig lead is melted down again in tanks and the unwanted accompanying elements are removed. The use of selected additives produces specific lead alloys. The finished lead alloys are cast into bars.

Industrial batteries

For example: Industrial batteries such as forklift truck batteries, accumulators  which are used as auxiliary power supplies amongst other uses

In many cases, these are treated in the same way as vehicle batteries. Lead acid accumulators can be  melted down in a similar way as vehicle batteries in the secondary lead smelting process.

You can find more detailed information in the section on "Vehicle batteries".