Electronic waste is a fancy term for everything from computers and monitors to printers and cables. Well, anything you want to get rid of anyway.
12,000 pieces of electronic waste that comes through the doors at EPC's facility in west St. Louis County every month gets recycled. Well, 98% of it gets recycled. Just about all of it has some value. If your computer and monitor end up at EPC, those machines have an afterlife. And that afterlife begins at the de-manufacturing department, or d-man.
At d-man, it's like a factory assembly line in reverse. Guys set up at tables with power tools and a conveyor belt in the middle. Boxes of monitors and computers stacked up beside each worker. One worker uses an electric screw driver to remove the plastic shell from a monitor and throws the plastic onto a conveyor belt. "Plastic fluctuates a lot depending on what China needs. But probably 12 cents a pound range, something like that," said EPC Vice-President Dave Beal.
Anyway, once the plastic comes off, the monitor and computer guts are exposed. And then it's taken apart one piece at a time. Beal said, "Some of the printed circuit boards are not worth much, maybe 30 cents a pound."
But the mother board, or the main printed circuit board from a PC, contains the processors and memory and is worth about three dollars a pound. "The difference is that the mother board in the PC has gold, palladium and different precious metals on it that we can send to a smelter and have it recovered," said Beal.
Beal said he knows where every piece of this stuff ends up. He said he has too because it's the law.
The wiring ends up at a company in Illinois. "They kind of grind it up and they have a process that separates the copper from the plastic and steel," the EPC V.P. said.
There is also a lot of copper in a computer and monitor. "Two months ago copper was $3.25 a pound, now it's below $3.00," Beal said.
As we walked around the 62,000 square foot facility Beal and I would stop and watch as employees basically ripped apart systems. "That's the hard drive," Beal said. "He'll pull the steel off that and throw it in. And steel right now, I get $300 a gross ton. There are 2,240 pounds in a gross ton."
"A 17 inch monitor has 4-6 pounds of lead in it," said Beal. EPC sends it to a lead smelter in Boss, Missouri for recycling.
After the monitors and computers are d-manned and sent down a conveyor belt, sorters throw it into boxes. Big boxes. "48 by 48 by 42 by 48," said Beal. All on pallets. One box for brown circuit boards, one for green, etc. Green board has some value. "If you look inside there close enough those are all gold plated. All the connectors are gold plated," said Beal. The final destination for the green board is a smelter in Japan.
Even a box labeled and filled with "817 pounds of mice," said Beal.
Another box containing aluminum plating off of servers, bound for South Missouri.
When the boxes fill up, the contents generally get crushed or shredded before being wrapped in plastic. "We bale docking stations," said Beal. "That's 1,330 pounds."
All the bales eventually get stacked high on shelves like you might see at Home Depot. Shelves that EPC bought used from...Home Depot. Recycled in effect. Just like those screws that were being removed from the monitors to begin the d-man process. The disassembly workers drop them into buckets at their feet. Beal said, "It's all steel and can be recycled."
Everything old is on its way to being new again at the largest processor of e-waste in the state.