In 2019, according to the The Global Transboundary E-waste Flows Monitor 2022, 53.6 million tons of electronic waste were produced and it is estimated that these figures will increase to 74.7 million tons in 2030 and 110 million tons in 2050. Of these volumes, only 17% is treated in a documented manner, while the remaining 83% is dispersed, exported to countries with less stringent regulations and/or disposed of in non-compliant, environmentally harmful facilities, resulting in the loss of reusable material worth 47.6 billion dollars. We already went in deep in study the specific problem of Flat Panel Display Recycling in a previous post.

Printed circuit boards are the most important fraction of electronic waste flow: the 1.2 million tons produced annually (The Global Transboundary E-waste Flows Monitor 2022) contain a high concentration of gold, silver, palladium, and copper.

The value of this component is demonstrated by how the percentage of boards treated in a compliant manner increases, always according to the The Global Transboundary E-waste Flows Monitor 2022, from 17% of electronic waste in general to 34%, a percentage that is still extremely low compared to the remaining 66% whose destination remains undocumented.

In addition, the high value of this specific component often results in it being sought and separated, favoring the loss of all other waste parts. The environmental damage caused by this is far from negligible. In addition to the loss of potentially reusable material worth nearly 50 billion dollars, the release into the environment or the treatment of such a volume of waste in a manner not compliant with the regulations in force in the states most sensitive to the issue results in the emission of 98 million tons of carbon dioxide, the dispersal of 71,000 tons of flame retardants, and 50 tons of mercury. PCBs are highly persistent in the environment and can take hundreds of years to break down. They can also bioaccumulate, meaning they accumulate in living organisms over time.

Most of the boards are processed in Europe, East Asia, and North America, areas where the infrastructure is suitable for appropriate and safe treatment. However, the capacity of these facilities is around 0.5 million tons, less than half of the total, according to the The Global Transboundary E-waste Flows Monitor 2022: it is therefore clear that the path to follow is to increase, and strengthen with new solutions, the facilities dedicated to the treatment of these components.

As electronic boards are the most valuable part of approximately any class of electronic waste, focusing on enhancing this process can accelerate the growth of processes that can be processed by many and different facilities in the sector. Having reliable and accurate separation of electronic boards from the disassembly processes, with reduced time and costs, would allow facilities to sell boards at a higher price to other facilities equipped for the recovery of the noble materials contained inside, increasing the interest in accepting larger quantities of waste and reducing the time needed to process them.

That’s why Hiro Robotics has developed an Innovative Robotic System that uses artificial intelligence, to identify the components mounted on a circuit board, so that a delta robot can sort them, based on the valuable materials contained within.