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A study on the environmental aspects of WEEE plastic recycling in a Brazilian company

Mendes Campolina, Juliana, São Leandro Sigrist, Carolina, Faulstich de Paiva, Jane Maria, Oliveira Nunes, Andréa, da Silva Moris, Virgínia Aparecida
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2017 v.22 no.12 pp. 1957-1968
carbon dioxide, electronic equipment, electronic wastes, electronics, energy, environmental impact, greenhouse gas emissions, guidelines, inventories, issues and policy, landfills, laws and regulations, life cycle inventory, mechanical properties, pellets, plastics, polystyrenes, raw materials, recycling, society, supply chain, toxic substances, Brazil
PURPOSE: The high consumption of electrical and electronic equipment motivated by the rapid technological advances seen over the years has lead to an increase in the generation of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Such residues contain various dangerous substances and therefore deserve special attention. To that end, the Brazilian Policy on Solid Waste has provided guidelines on integrated and solid waste management, such as consumer electronics, aiming at their appropriate disposal and treatment through reverse logistics. In this context, the present work focuses on studying the recycling of some WEEE plastics. METHODS: This study was conducted using the methodological framework presented in the International Standard ISO 14040:2006 and aimed to determine the life cycle inventory (LCI) of a WEEE plastic recycling process in a company in Brazil. Having collected the data, it was possible to identify and quantify the environmental aspects caused by the recycling process of major plastics (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and high impact polystyrene (HIPS). The study was conducted in the only company in Brazil that operates WEEE plastic recycling in large scale. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Some of the environmental aspects caused during the recycling process of the plastics under study were identified and quantified. As a result, besides presenting the inventory, it was also possible to determine a reduction in the consumption of energy and in CO₂ emissions. When compared to the production of virgin ABS and HIPS, the recycling processes for such plastics showed a reduction in energy consumption by approximately 90% for both plastics and a reduction in CO₂ emissions by approximately 84% for HIPS and 87% for ABS. The plastics recycled by the company retain over 90% of their virgin mechanical properties. CONCLUSIONS: The study shows that recycling is highly relevant and that components present in WEEE received appropriate destination and treatment. Recycling avoids environmental impacts as it prevents WEEE from being disposed of in landfills and as the pellets of recycled plastics can re-enter the supply chain as raw materials. Considering the legislation in Brazil, the stage of collection/transport/treatment of WEEE conducted by the company under study presents strong indications of contributions to the environment, society, and economy of the country.