Electronic waste is an increasing problem that no one is talking about

Consider the efforts that have gone into properly disposing of plastic waste. Years of campaigning to rid the world of unnecessary and damaging landfill led to a reformed approach to recycling, with plastic now widely recycled. These efforts that went into making the recycling of plastic waste a global concern massively impacted public attitudes.

Now, generally speaking, electronic waste – or E-waste – is not typically at the forefront of your mind when it comes to landfills and recycling, but, as with plastic, it is a global issue. In 2019 alone, a whopping 53 million tonnes of E-waste was registered, with only 17% of this recycled. Compare this to the recycling rate of plastic in the UK in 2018, where 43.8% of plastic packaging waste was recycled, and you can see a stark difference. Perhaps, then, it is about time that we reassess how we deal with E-waste.

The 83% of electronic waste that was not recycled in 2019 would have either been thrown into landfill or shipped off to other countries and dumped there. For example, the commercial district of Agbogbloshie in Ghana is one of the world’s principal recipients of such waste. E-waste arrives here in its hundreds of thousands of tonnes and has a detrimental impact on the health of the informal workers that are responsible for sorting it. Wishing to clearly emphasise the severity of the matter, Stephen Sicars, an environmental director at the United Nations’ Industrial Development Organization, said that “E-waste is a growing global challenge that poses a serious threat to the environment and human health worldwide”.


Unless we make a change now, EVs will create an unprecedented volume of E-waste

Unfortunately, with the world reaching unprecedented technological heights, this problem is only going to get worse. In the automotive industry in particular, E-waste is going to be especially troublesome. The global efforts to lower vehicle emissions have seen many countries committing to only producing electric vehicles. In theory, this is good news, but it doesn’t take electronic waste into account; as more EVs are manufactured, the greater the scope is for more E-waste to be produced.

Part of the reason why so little of this waste is recycled is because of its complex structure. The metals, magnets, wiring, and remaining electrical current make it difficult – and even unsafe – to recycle. This is particularly the case with an electric motor, which powers electric vehicles. The motor that is used in the majority of these cars is called a permanent magnet machine, but these require rare earth metals such as neodymium or dysprosium, which can be magnetised to become permanent magnets. On top of this, these motors need a copper coil to enable an electric current to rotate the magnet and create mechanical power.


We deliver electric motors that are fully recyclable

The process of recycling one of these electric motors is complicated, requiring the removal of the copper coil and magnets before the motor can be recycled. This is not a simple task, and is often deemed too expensive to even attempt, so electric motors are just being thrown into landfill. As was the case with the internal combustion engine, a more environmentally sustainable alternative is required.

AEM’s technology is the solution. Using no rare earth metals and replacing copper with aluminium, our electric motors can be put straight into an arc furnace and melted down, making them fully recyclable and removing the contribution to e-waste. This technology promises to make a huge mark in the automotive industry’s mission to become more environmentally sustainable.