History | Last updated by Taylor Hales, 7 years ago

Recycling Info

General Info

  • PCB Recycling

Here is a great  article elaborating the two central ways that PCB recyclers process boards: smelting and chemical leaching. In short, smelting is way better. And if the slag (depleted/ melted circuit boards with valuable and toxic metals removed) is reformed into construction material, that's environmentally ideal.

Here's a description of how boards are smelted from  eHow: The feed (the broken-down circuit boards) are fed into a blast furnace from a conveyor belt. As the boards themselves are melted, the precious metals are extracted during the melting process. Gold, copper, nickel, and other precious metals are drawn out of the circuit boards, which become slag during the smelting process. The precious metals, and toxic metals (such as lead and mercury) are drawn out of the slag, and then the slag itself is recycled to be used as a construction material. The metals that are extracted are then separated and resold to be used over again for new manufacturing.

Leaching, by contrast, uses chemicals to remove the metals into a solution which is then further purified into a solid. The environmental "problem" is that pretty bad chemicals are used, and there are some pretty bad chemical byproducts.

  • CRT and LCD Monitors

CRT monitors have a good amount of toxic lead in them. LCD monitors contain a very small quantity of mercury (still scary). The ideal recycler has high safety certs for employees (ISO 14001) and has a careful process worked out for disassembling monitors and treating CRT glass.

LCDs, similarly, need to be carefully treated, packaged and shipped, etc. Bulbs have a small amount of mercury (even a small amount is really serious, though!) LCD lamps can be recycled, which is something to look for in recyclers. Look for safety certs.

  • Plastic Recycling

Plastics recyclers sort and bale (shred) plastic. We could get a baler ourselves for a mere $45,000! Plus the necessary permits and ISO certs and all.

The ideal in a plastic recycler is someone who either molds the plastic into new stuff (toys, bowls, whatever) themselves, or sells only to domestic companies that mold it into new stuff. We haven't yet found a recycler that does either.

  • Wire and Aluminum Scrap Recycling

Aluminum is, at some point in the recycling "chain," melted and reformed into something new. We will get a higher payout if we clean the aluminum of thermal pads and compound ourselves.

Wire scrap processors either chop (with big ole shredders) or burn the insulation off. If it is chopped, it would be better to somehow recycle insulation, but whether or not that is feasible and whether or not that is ever done is unclear. U.S. chopping facilities are preferred to wire processors abroad.

  • Other e-waste

Most recyclers that accept whole computers do a lot of shredding. Some shred whole computers without at all disassembling them or removing chemically hazardous/ poisonous stuff like batteries (bad!). Shredding isn't necessarily bad. There are shredders that work in pretty complicated and effective ways to separate materials into lots of alike materials (they'd separate metal from plastic from wire, wire insulation from copper, even copper from steel). Hard drives, floppy drives, power supplies, etc. that we send to recyclers are almost certainly shredded for metal scrap and a little bit of precious metal value that can be reclaimed.

Our Recyclers

Currently, our recyclers are:

  • PCBs: Sipi Metals, Chicago, IL
  • CRT monitors: Supply-Chain Services, Inc. (SSI), Lombard, IL
  • LCD monitors: SSI, Lombard, IL
  • Case plastic: Maine Plastics, Zion, IL
  • Non-case plastic (bottles, bags, etc.): SSI, Lombard, IL
  • Hard Drives, CD Drives, Floppy Drives, other "mixed" recycling: SSI, Lombard, IL
  • Floppy Disks: SSI, Lombard, IL
  • CD media: MRC Polymers
  • Cardboard/ paper: Huron Paper, Chicago, IL
  • Glass bottles/ other glass: (none! we need one!)
  • Batteries: City of Chicago (Accepted at any Walgreens and any Chicago Public Library, and the Old Town School of Folk Music)

Notes on Area Recyclers

  • SSI (Supply-Chain Services Inc.)

SSI is our most enduring recycler relationship. An early volunteer (or was he staff?), John Billings, worked at SSI and volunteered at FGC. Our contact at SSI is Jade Lee, who is incredibly knowledgeable, upfront, and great to deal with. What they accept: Any e-waste (monitors, TVs, computers, parts, other electronics). Do they payout? No. We pay SSI $.12 per pound for "mixed" e-waste processing. CRTs and LCDs we pay a flat $6 fee each. Big LCDs and TVs the fee increases. How they process: They break stuff down into finer-level constituent parts than we care to do, and have logistics figured out to sell to/ recycle with a bunch of different companies/ recyclers. Their processes and recyclers are actually really well documented on their  website (cheers!).

  • Maine Plastics

Maine Plastics is a plastics-only recycler in Zion, IL (about 1 hr. north of FGC) What they accept: Case plastic of any color, laptop case plastic. Remove metal and batteries, etc. prior to boxing. Do they payout, and how much? They quoted us $.04 per pound. How they process: They bale and sell it to a company (or companies) in China, who our contact claimed then remolds it into consumer goods.

  • Adams Plastics

Adams is a plastics-only recycler in the city, actually pretty close to us. What they accept: Adams will not take our plastic because it isn't baled. It seems from brief conversations with other recyclers that many bale and then sell to Adams. Do they pay out? Not to us! They told us previously that they'd pay out $.01 to $.02 a pound for our black and beige HTPE case plastic, but they wouldn't accept anything else. How they process: Adams bales and re-sells baled plastic to buyers in the U.S. and abroad, specifically in Asia.

  • Great Lakes Electronics Corporation

GLEC is a recycler-refurbisher. We don't much about their electronics recycling, but they bale case plastic and sell it to Adams, which could provide us with a path to having our plastic recycled with a small payout or free. They also do pickups, which is good because they're out there in Bedford Park.

  • MRC Polymers

MRC recycles plastics. A volunteer worked there and said they do on-site injection molding of plastic. What they accept: they accept jewel cases and CDs. They do not need to be separated. They do not accept case plastic. Do they pay out? Nope, but they take CDs and jewel cases for free. How they process: They bale and resell.

  • Edco

Edco is a PCB/ e-waste recycler. A drop-in who runs a small PCB scrapping operation said they may be the highest-paying in the city. In a phone call, they said they would not buy PCBs. Curious.

  • Sipi Metals

Sipi is a local metal refinery. They handle e-waste and are BAN-certified as an e-steward. What they accept: PCBs Do they buy and what's their rate? They do buy PCBs, in a sense. How it actually works: they charge an upfront processing fee of $.85 per pound of recycling and after their processing is done, they pay out between 95 and 98.5% of the actual precious metal value for gold, silver, copper, palladium, platinum. How they process: they smelt circuit boards (basically, heating PCBs until the plastic melts away, but isn't incinerated, and the precious metals can be reclaimed-- see below for more on smelting). They smelt onsite or send to a smelter in Europe, depending on customer preference (I think I remember that correctly-- we'll confirm when we meet with them). I believe the European refinery is Umicore, touted as the best PCB recycler in the world.

  • SIMS Recycling Solutions/ SIMS Metal Management

SIMS has become a huge multinational recycling operation. What they accept: Pretty much any e-waste and scrap metal (wire, aluminum, steel, etc.). Their computer recycling process seems questionable-- they use massive shredders into which they feed whole computers. That saves labor cost, but means that chemicals in batteries are not treated with the greatest care. SIMS also has a "branch" that operates very separately from their recycling operations that is dedicated to metal scrapping. Many scrap yards around Chicago ultimately sell their metal scrap to SIMS. Do they payout? Yes, the rate varies a lot with the type of wire and aluminum. We get a higher payout if the aluminum has been cleaned of thermal pads, compound, etc. How they process: Unclear. We'll find out in early August.


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History | Last updated by Taylor Hales, 7 years ago