Urban Ore: Trail
In the past few years, the business development team at Trail Operation has been working to adapt Teck’s Trail smelter complex furnace technology to responsibly recycle thousands of tonnes of end-of-life TVs, monitors, computers and printers – or “e-waste” – in Western Canada and the United States.
E-waste is generated in enormous and increasing volumes every year; Environment Canada estimates that Canadians produced 156,000 tonnes of e-waste in 2005, and predicts that amounts will reach approximately 224,500 tonnes by 2010. The projected 34% increase over eight years reflects consumer trends favouring ‘disposable’ technology; this is most apparent in the average three-year turnover for laptops and two-year turnover for cell phones . In addition to the sheer volume of trash our society gen¬erates, there is another issue to consider: e-scrap contains metals and hazardous materials that escape their protective casings when these are broken during disposal, and leak into the soil and waterways surrounding landfills.
Landfilling of e-waste, therefore, is a questionable practice for environmental reasons in addition to being a loss of valuable metals. Rapid innovations and turnover of electronic equipment has far outpaced industry’s ability to handle its disposal; e-waste destined for recycling often finds its way to developing countries, where it is manually dismantled in unregulated, outdated and unhealthy ways. Taking care of our own e-waste in Canada breaks this cycle of exporting the problem to countries less capable of dealing with it safely.
In Trail Operation’s fuming process, shredded e-waste is added as supplemental feed to the furnace. Metals such as germanium, zinc, indium and lead are recovered as metal powder and integrated into the standard products of Trail Operation. Plastics and wood from old TVs are consumed as fuel, generating steam that is recovered and used to heat vessels elsewhere onsite. Materials such as silica and iron are incorporated into the final product, which is then sold for use in Portland cement manufacturing.
Over 6,600 tonnes of e-waste was processed through the fuming furnace in 2006 and 2007, representing about 150 tonnes of lead that has been recovered, reused and kept out of landfills. By the end of 2007, Trail Operation had been accepted as a processor for the BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan provincial electronic recycling programs, having met their strict environmental and responsible processing requirements.
In 2008, the process continues to evolve. For example, due to the high demand for responsible recycling of leaded cathode ray tube glass found in old TVs, a second recycling stream is now sent directly to the Operation’s KIVCET smelter. This offsets some minor reagent costs, and is a more efficient processing point for leaded materials.
To handle the growing amounts of e-waste and related materials, engineering studies are underway to expand the capacity of the recycling facilities at Trail. Teck is also researching capabilities to recycle other types of e-waste such as DVD players, VCRs, audio/visual equipment, gaming stations, cell phones and household alkaline batteries (e.g., A, AA, AAA, C, and D cells).