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Jan 2019
09

The Electronics Recycling Industry and the Internet of Things

By Adam Shine, Vice President of Sunnking

The world around us is increasingly connected and reliant on technology. Any device connected to the internet is a part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Examples of these devices range from refrigerators to light bulbs. Currently, there are about 11 billion IoT devices with estimates that by 2020 there will be over 20 billion connected devices. The IoT creates valuable opportunities for consumers and businesses alike, but also poses new challenges. Electronics recyclers must learn and adjust their processes to accommodate the multitude of new devices that come in all shapes and sizes.

With advancements in technology, recyclers could start to receive new types of equipment they have never processed before like autonomous vehicles and new items like laundry folding machines. Everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, and almost anything else you can imagine is online. Devices that did not previously have semiconductors, such as jewelry or wearables, now do, and have shorter life cycles because they are often designed to fail once the battery dies as it is challenging to design products with replaceable batteries without disrupting the performance. Shortened life of products paired with the acceleration of new IoT items leads to a mountain of material. In the next four to five years, the industry will see the material come in droves. The United Nations found that people generated 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste globally in 2016, with expectations to grow to 52.2 million metric tons by 2021.

The breadth of different items processors must learn how to recycle will create many challenges. Automation becomes increasingly important in order to expand throughput, generate cleaner streams, and ultimately break down new tech. Autonomous processing equipment is unlikely to grow at same rate of IoT devices, but it will be necessary for recyclers like Sunnking to discover more efficient and sophisticated ways to handle the variety of electronics. While some manual processing will continue to be necessary, a more skilled workforce may also be required, such as engineers, to find complex solutions on how to demanufacture new devices into components.

Along with recyclers learning new processing methods, consumers and businesses will need to become more knowledgeable as they acquire an increasing amount of smart electronic products that eventually need to be disposed of. It’s just starting to become common place for people to know it’s illegal to throw away computers and TVs. They’ll need to choose certified recyclers, like Sunnking which is R2/RIOS certified, who protect data being stored in their network of products. Electronics recycling certifications were developed to protect the environment, employees, and data. Processors that don’t invest in necessary certifications could end up being pushed out of the industry or forced to be certified as people learn about and demand responsible recycling.

To ensure the health and safety of our environment, everyone has a due diligence to think about how products are being made, what we purchase, and what happens when a product reaches end-of-life. The impact that the rapid growth of the IoT and e-waste will have needs to be confronted with responsible manufacturing and recycling. Sunnking will continue to learn and adjust our recycling operations in the best way possible so we are positioned well for what the future will bring.

As I write this I’m on a plane headed to the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas to see the latest IoT devices!  Whether we’re ready for it or not there will be everything from connected toothbrushes to autonomous vehicles and we have a responsibility to make sure we are ready to properly recycle these items when they reach their end of life.

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