Have you ever had a cellphone that you dropped in a puddle? Or a laptop with a cracked screen? Sometimes, replacing the broken parts of your electronics is almost more expensive than just replacing the devices themselves. That’s assuming you even know how to fix whatever parts need fixing to begin with! Unfortunately, if you don’t, you just end up with a pile of useless, broken things. The goods news is that you can turn that pile of useless, broken electronics into a pile of money, if you know where to sell broken electronics.
For a long time, broken electronics only had two eventual homes- a landfill or a recycling plant. A landfill is a terrible place for electronic devices, since they contain components that can pollute when they’re damaged. So, you might throw away a water-damaged cell phone, but if its screen is cracked in the process, it’ll end up releasing mercury. A recycling plant is better, but still not the best choice. It takes a lot of energy to break down electronics for recycling, and burning off the waste products that can’t be recycled creates pollution. In the end, unless your electronics are completely outdated and completely broken, you’re much better off if you sell broken electronics.
It might sound hard to find a buyer for a broken laptop or cracked cell phone, but it’s easier than it seems. The trick is to look past the typical electronics buyer. It’s true that most end users aren’t going to have any interest whatsoever in buying broken electronics, but that’s okay. You can sell broken electronics to someone who will, instead- a used electronics dealer.
A used electronics dealer will offer you money for your broken electronics because your non-working devices can still be used for parts, even if they can’t be repaired themselves. It’s true that they won’t be able to offer you as much as they would for a working device, but they are pretty much the only avenue for people looking to unload broken things. So, you can sell broken electronics just by finding a used electronics dealer online. You’ll be able to get a fair price for your device, whether it’s totally fine, damaged, or completely broken. Even if your laptop’s screen is cracked, the hard drive is probably fine. Even if your cell phone’s keypad doesn’t work, its case and screen are probably fine. As long as you have a fairly recent device from a well-known manufacturer, there will always be a used electronics dealer you can sell broken electronics to.
Once you find a used electronics website, selling your device is simple. One simple online form will get you a price quote on whatever device you have to sell, and another will get you a mailer to ship it in. You won’t have to worry about shipping costs, insurance, tracking, delivery confirmation, or anything else. The mailer will protect your device until it reaches the used electronics company. Once it arrives, you’ll be contacted to verify that your device was in the condition you claimed, and to set up your payment. In no time at all, you’ll have gotten rid of your broken electronics, and received some cash in their place.
If you don’t go through a used electronics dealer, you don’t have many other options to sell broken electronics. You might be able to get your device repaired and then sell it, or sell it to a hobbyist as-is. In the end, selling your device to a used electronics dealer is a much safer bet. You’re guaranteed to find a buyer, and can end up making more money than you’d think. You will also never have to worry about things like shipping, dissatisfied customers, or non-payment.
When you accidentally break one of your electronics, it can be borderline heartbreaking, like that feeling of impending doom you get watching your cell phone fall into a sink. New laptops and cell phones cost a lot of money, and watching it go down the tubes is nothing if not frustrating. Don’t let that get you down. Sell broken electronics, and get back some of the hard-earned money you spent on them in the first place.
With respect to a Lone Electron universe, let’s consider…
ACCELERATION/DECELERATION: None. The same argument applies as with velocity.
ARROW OF TIME: If there is no time experienced by the Lone Electron, then there can be no arrow of time either. In short, the Lone Electron has no experience of a past, present, or future.
CHARGE: Yes, the electron has a charge of minus one or in other words a negative charge of one unit. However, in order for charge to be meaningful, it has to be acting with or against another charge of which there is none. So, does our Lone Electron have charge in this context or doesn’t it?
COLOUR: An electron is colourless. In any event you need photons, electromagnetic energy, light waves, to transmit (wavelength and frequency) what we (our brains) interpret as colour. Our drab, bland, colourless Lone Electron has no photons to transmit any information about itself, and there are no eyeballs and brains to interpret that information in any event.
ELECTROMAGNETISM: The electron is most associated with electromagnetism and the electromagnetic force. The associated force particle is the photon and electrons can absorb and emit photons (absorb and emit energy). However, in this scenario, there are no photons, so therefore there is no electromagnetic force. In any event, a force is only a meaningful concept if there are two of more particles involved, since, if you are the sum total of things, you can’t give off or receive a force.
ENTROPY: Entropy is a statistical concept where over time, left to themselves, things tend to go from an ordered state to a disordered state, like before-and-after pictures of a wild party. One electron does not make for statistical analysis, so the electron’s state of order or disorder is what it is. It doesn’t increase nor decrease. In fact it’s rather meaningless to philosophize over it.
EQUILIBRIUM: The Lone Electron is in a state of equilibrium with respect to its surroundings. It could hardly be otherwise since there are no other surroundings except nothingness.
EXISTENCE: Yes, it would be incorrect to say our Lone Electron didn’t exist. However, there’s nothing else around it to verify that existence or give any meaning to it.
GRAVITY: Since the electron has mass, it must have gravity. However, gravity only has real meaning between two (or more) objects with mass, like the Earth – Moon – Sun trilogy; or, in the most traditional of traditional scenarios, the Earth – falling apple scenario that, according to mythology, inspired Isaac Newton. So, in the Lone Electron scenario, it’s pretty meaningless to talk about gravity. In fact it might be meaningless to talk about gravity since gravity is equivalent to acceleration as shown by Einstein. Acceleration implies motion or velocity which in the context of a one electron universe is meaningless. Further, the (hypothetical) particle associated with gravity, the graviton, would be conspicuous by its absence in this Lone Electron thought experiment.
MASS: Yes, the electron has mass. However, it’s yet another particle, known as the Higgs Boson that gives particles with mass, their mass. The Lone Electron has no Higgs Bosons around to give it muscle.
MOMENTUM: None. The same argument applies as with velocity.
PHASE: There is no phase. One electron does not a solid, liquid, gas or plasma make. An electron, all by its little lonesome, cannot undergo any phase change, like say from a liquid to a solid.
SENSE OF IDENTITY: Our Lone Electron doesn’t have a sense of self-awareness since it isn’t conscious and in any event it has nothing else around it to provide a contrast to itself.
SPACE: Since the Lone Electron exists in this universe, it has to exist in some sort of realm, a concept we call space. However, space is not a thing, and the electron is, so while the two share a common existence, its all apples and oranges.
SPIN: Our electron will either be spin-up or spin-down. However, orientation, as with velocity, is always with respect to something else. If you removed all of the rest of the Universe (stars, planets, constellations, the Sun, etc.) just leaving the Earth, well the labels North and South Pole become meaningless. There no longer is anything that’s up or down or sideways that one can orient the Earth’s axis to. We know north because that’s where the North Star is located. No North Star. We know south because the Southern Cross is overhead. No Southern Cross. A compass isn’t any help because it’s only an arbitrary convention what we call north and south and in any event the compass is an example of that ‘something else’.
STRONG NUCLEAR FORCE: The strong nuclear force only applies in keeping an atomic nucleus together. Protons, with a positive charge, would like to repel each other. That they are held in check – confined to quarters – is due to the strong nuclear force. There is no atomic nucleus in a one electron universe, therefore there’s no strong nuclear force.
TIME: An electron is a fundamental particle, a basic building block. It doesn’t change any spots and there’s nothing else around to cause the electron’s spots to change or to ‘witness’ change. No change means the concept of time is meaningless, so therefore, no time unit need apply here for a job.
VELOCITY: No, the concept of velocity is meaningless in this context. Velocity only has meaning when measured relative or compared to something else. If you drive along at sixty miles per hour, that’s relative to the landscape you are driving past, like the surface of the road. The Lone Electron has no landscape for its velocity to be measured against.
WEAK NUCLEAR FORCE: The weak nuclear force governs radioactivity, or the decay of unstable atomic nuclei into more stable forms. One type of radioactivity (Beta decay) can emit an electron, but in the absence of any nuclei, unstable or otherwise, our Lone Electron has no connection with the weak nuclear force since in this, our electron’s universe, there ain’t no such critter.
So we see how much more meaningful it is to have more than one item per universe. Fortunately, our Universe satisfies that criteria. But the real interesting bit, at least from a philosopher’s point of view, is how some of our most take-it-for-granted concepts that form our worldview, disappear or have no meaning when applied to just one entity. It’s impossible for us to imagine a worldview without there being time, the arrow of time (past, present, and future) or entropy. It’s impossible for us to imagine a worldview without mass or gravity. It’s impossible for us to imagine a worldview without motion. Yet it is entirely possible to imagine a Lone Electron universe where exactly that worldview has to apply!
Electronic items are loved by all. However, do you know about the precautions that you need to take while using electronics? Well, not many do know a lot about the precautions that need to be taken. Electronic items can be delicate and it is necessary that the proper precautions are taken to protect the device.
Understanding the basics
Electronics and electrical equipments are a very important and inevitable part of day to day lives. However, one needs to know how to handle and use these electronic items as well.
Precautions while handling electronics
All the electrical appliances and electronics are semiconducting devices and have circuit designs. So it is very important to handle them properly so as to minimize damage and malfunction. Circuits can malfunction under different circumstances. One of the most common causes of damage to these electronics is the application of stress like variation is temperature, the rate of current flow and the voltage applied. These variables should always be kept within the limits which are permissible by the manufacturer.
Protection of the pins
Pins are those minute things that connect the semiconductor devices present in the electronic appliances to the power supply or the input and output sources. When the pins are connected to the high output sources, care should be taken to prevent shortening of the circuit. This could lead to damage of the appliance and may decrease the life of the appliance. Also, the unconnected pins should never be connected to currents of high impedance as it can also lead to damage of the electronic appliance.
Precautions while using electronics
Most electronic devices come with some instructions which should be kept in mind while using them. The manufacturers as well as users should keep these instructions in mind and take precautions. For instance, if you buy a hand held game console, the precautions state that you should not expose the device to water and should take regular breaks while playing.
Precautions while storing and transporting electronics
Storing the electronic devices properly is also very important. Since all semiconductor electronics are made up of very minute and delicate electronic circuits, they should be stored with proper care. They should be kept away from moisture, extreme changes in temperature and heat. To avoid damage during transportation, these electronics are stored in big aluminum containers with silicon coating to prevent damage during storage as well as transporting the electronics.
Also, one other important thing which should be kept in mind is that electronic items made up of plastic bodies are highly susceptible to fire. Also, in case of an emergency, one should always call in for help and be cautious not to go near the appliances. Electronic items should be properly charged as well, like in the case of computers and mobile phones. At the end of the day, you need to understand that electronic items and electronic devices should be kept and stored properly in order to use them for long.
Understanding the world of electronics
Statistically, the number of electronic goods sold has gone up phenomenally in the last few years. With the industrialization of the world, it is simple to assume that the sale of electronic goods and items will just double or even treble in the coming years. Given this fact, it is absolutely essential that people know how to handle the electronic goods, especially electronic gadgets that need to be handled with utmost care. Not knowing how to take proper care of your electronic gadget can be costly and can lead to health problems as well as damaging the electronic device itself.
Go to your local store and buy several items of the same product – say a package of three golf balls. Though the golf balls appear identical, closer examination will reveal ever so slight differences. One ball maybe fractionally larger; another ever so slightly less spherical; perhaps the third is ever so slightly lighter. The generality that extends from this is that any two seemingly identical products will have nevertheless slight variations in their properties.
Now buy a packet of three electrons (or their antimatter equivalent, the positron). Each electron, or positron, will be identical in size, mass and electric charge to as many decimal places as you care to measure. All electrons (and positrons) are 100% absolutely identical clones.
Take one electron and one positron and bring them together. They annihilate releasing a fixed amount of energy. Take another electron and another positron and repeat the scenario. The pair will annihilate releasing an identical amount of energy in the process. The amount of energy released in each electron-positron annihilation case is the same, to as many decimal places as you can measure. That’s quite unlike taking a match from a box of matches, striking same and releasing its stored chemical energy as heat energy. Another match from the same box wouldn’t release, to as many decimal places as you care to measure, the absolutely identical amount of heat energy.
How come identical golf balls aren’t but identical electrons (or positrons) are?
Electrons (or positrons), having mass, can be created from energy (just like mass can be converted to energy as in the case of the electron-positron annihilation process). You (human intelligence) can’t create identical golf balls, but a seemingly non-intelligent natural process (Mother Nature by any other name) can create or produce copies of a fundamental particle, like an electron (or positron), that are clones of one another down to the nittiest-grittiest detail.
Even with quantum mechanics in force, you’d think energy could create or be converted into an electron with twice the standard electron mass or twice the electric charge, or thrice even. But no. You see one electron you’ve seen them all – every electron that is, was or will be, anywhere, everywhere, anytime, every time in our Universe. Electrons, like Black Holes, have no hair. That means they have no individual personality. In fact Black Holes can be said to have some fuzz because they can and do differ in terms of size, mass and electric charge. Electrons have the exact same size, mass and electric charge, so absolutely no hair! Relative to Black Holes, electrons (and positrons) are absolutely bald!
Invoking all things quantum is still a bit of a cop-out in that while quantum means things are this or that, one unit or two, one energy level or two energy levels, there’s no explanation as to why it’s only one or two, not one & a half. It just is, but why remains a mystery.
Why are all electrons (and positrons) identical?
1) Of course THE cop-out answer is that that’s just the way God wanted it and no correspondence will be entered into regarding the matter.
Unfortunately, there is no real evidence for the existence of any deity past and/or present that stands up to any detailed scrutiny.
2) One could resort to an explanation via string theory merged with quantum physics. String theory just replaces elementary particles as little billiard balls for elementary little bits of string (albeit not string as we know it). Now maybe, as in all things quantum, these strings can be one unit in length, or two units, or three units, or four units, etc. Any positive whole number multiple of one string length is okay. Now say that a two length unit of string is an electron. A two unit length of anti-string is therefore a positron.
Or, one can suggest that strings vibrate and can only vibrate at specific frequencies as any musician playing a stringed instrument knows. So, a string vibrating at one allowed frequency is an electron; if it vibrates at another allowable frequency maybe that’s a proton or a neutron. Again, a vibrating anti-matter string would produce manifestations of the antimatter particles, a positron being dependent upon one of the allowable vibrating frequencies.
Of the two possibilities, it’s the vibration rate theory that’s preferred. All strings are of the same fundamental length – their rate of vibration can differ, but at precise intervals. What causes strings to vibrate at the rate they do, and how they can change rates of vibration (morph from one kind of particle into others) are questions better left for another time.
Unfortunately, string theory has no credibility in terms of any actual experimental evidence, and, to add insult to injury, it requires the postulation of ten to eleven dimensions in order to fit the pieces together. If string theory gets some experimental runs on the board then, and only then, will it be time to take strings seriously.
3) Well, one other possible explanation is that all electrons are absolutely identical because there is only one electron in actual existence. If you see the same object twice, thrice of a zillion times over, then it’s the same object and the fact that it is consistently identical is not a great mystery. But how can the Universe contain only one electron? That seems to be the least obvious statement anyone could ever make – the statement of a total wacko.
Well, one explanation goes something like this. Our one electron has zipped back and forth between the Alpha and Omega points again, and again, and again. Now multiply ‘again’ by zillions upon zillions upon zillions of times. When you take a cross section at any ‘now’ point in time between the Alpha and the Omega, there will be zillions upon zillions upon zillions of electrons visible ‘now’. Simple, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, while there is no violation of physical laws at the micro level in travelling through time (apart from going forward at a rate of one second per second which we do whether we like it or not), no exact causality mechanism has been proposed to explain how and why an elementary particle shifts gear into time reverse (or forward again).
Back to the original question, why are all electrons identical? Or not, as the case may be.
4) Perhaps in other parallel universes, ones that have different physics, all electrons (if they have electrons at all) might not be identical. That possibility is akin to asking about numbers of angels dancing on pinheads. There’s just no way of ever knowing since parallel universes are beyond the reach of science as we know it.
But say each member of the particle zoo weren’t identical to every other member in kind. Say electrons came in a thousand variations of mass and electric charge; ditto the other elementary particles. You’d have a particle jungle. If that were the case, presumably it would prove to be very difficult to create identical atoms of the elements and identical molecular compounds and ultimately it would prove difficult to build up the structure of our Universe as we know it, including us. An analogy might be that it’s far easier to assemble a ten piece jigsaw puzzle and one with a billion pieces. Our particle zoo seems to be a Goldilocks zoo – not too many particles and variations thereof; not to few either (I mean a universe composed of just identical electrons is equally as bad for life as we know it). Of course if that – the Goldilocks particle zoo – weren’t so, we wouldn’t be here to ponder the issue.
Moving on up the chain, assuming all members of the particle zoo are identical then atoms of any particular element must be identical – if you’ve seen one gold atom, you’ve seen them all (though owning them all is quite a different matter). If elements come in different isotopes, then all the specific isotope atoms of that element are identical.
Further moving on up the chain, if identical atoms combine with other different identical atoms, then presumably the resulting molecules will be identical. While that’s true, it’s only true up to a point, because eventually you can get molecules that while seemingly identical, have handedness. That is, your hands, while identical, aren’t identical because one has a left-handed orientation; the other has a right-handed orientation. That’s the point things start to fall apart or break down.
That apart, macro objects, like golf balls, are composed of millions of atoms and/or molecules. If a golf ball has one more, or one less molecule than another, well the two aren’t identical.
5) Introducing the maths connection: Here, there and everywhere, on a flat surface, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; triangles have a sum total 180 degrees; 2 + 2 = 4. In each case, it is so to as many decimal places as you care to calculate. Every 7 is identical to every other 7 – no more and no less. That’s true whether or not one is dealing with base ten, or in binary (base two).
So what’s the connection? All computer generated simulations, in whatever context, for whatever purpose, are ultimately software programs, which in turn are just mathematical constructions. All you see are ultimately expressions of maths, of binary bits, of 0’s and 1’s, something on or off. So if you simulate some object using binary software programming, and you create another object using the exact same binary software coding, then those two virtual objects are identical. Now, call what you have simulated, ‘electrons’. So if all electrons are identical, maybe it’s because they are mathematical constructions – the end products of computer software/programming.
In simulations, virtual objects can interact with other virtual objects (more mathematical wizardry). Change happens. Well, that’s what we observe in our reality too. The question is, is our reality really real reality, or simulated reality? Are our electrons identical because each is the product of an identical piece of binary software programming? That may not ultimately be the answer, but it’s an answer. Electrons are the same since they are all constructed from the same mathematical whole cloth of binary bits – of 0’s and 1’s.
Discussion: One may argue that there are indeed differences between electrons (and positrons), we just haven’t measured to enough decimal places yet. While that might be true, I personally wouldn’t want to bet on it.
Conclusion: I started out with the question of why all electrons are identical. The answer is, I don’t know and neither, I suspect does anyone else. However, the foundation of physics (itself the foundation for the other sciences) is grounded in maths, and maths, as noted above, has no problem with the concept. All identical equations yield identical results; the ‘equals’ sign itself demands identicalness. Perhaps maths has more fundamental ‘reality’ than anyone has given it credit for. That’s certainly the case if we should happen to be inhabiting a software generated, simulated Universe
Postscript: The concept of identicalness can bring us into some weird scientific and philosophical territory. Two people examining the same object will not agree to the Nth degree that the object under consideration is the exact same object, an identical object, when compared from each person’s perspective. Perception is ultimately a function of brain chemistry and no two people have the exact same brain chemistry due to various factors like genetics, age, physiology, disease, fatigue, and/or intakes of various solid, liquid and gaseous elements and compounds that directly affect brain chemistry. The differences may be really tiny and nitpicky but nevertheless present. To take another case, if three court stenographers all record and transcribe a days worth of testimony, no doubt there will be (ever so) slight differences in the final three versions.
Even the same person experiencing the same object or event a second, third, etc. time – say watching a film again or listening to a CD track again, won’t have identical experiences, again due to the internal brain chemistry being slightly different on each occasion. That’s apart from the fact that external influences like temperature, humidity, pressure, and general wear and tear (entropy) all affect that object or event and the environment between that object/event and the person experiencing the object/event. Those external factors also change from moment to moment.
People though tend to agree (brain chemistry not withstanding) on what an independent umpire says about an object or event – the independent umpire being an instrument or measuring device. Instruments are of course also subject to external influences, but aren’t affected by brain chemistry – they have no brains!
Measurements tend to be numerical, and numbers are pretty straight forward. However, all measurements are subject to some uncertainty or error margins, especially analogue devices like a ruler – is it 1.510 cm or 1.511 cm or 1.509 cm? Or a thermometer – is it reading 31.37 degrees or 31.38 degrees or 31.36 degrees? Or take a standard watch or clock – is it 12:00:00 or 12:00:01 or 11:59:59?
Digital instruments however have readouts that have a finite number of places in which to display the result, so they don’t tend to give you a plus or minus uncertainty error bar. A digital instrument will readout that the length IS 1.510 cm; the temperature IS 31.37 degrees; the time IS 12:00:00, and everyone looking at the readout will agree.
Electronics recycling in the U.S. is growing as the industry consolidates and matures. The future of electronics recycling – at least in the U.S., and perhaps globally – will be driven by electronics technology, precious metals, and industry structure, in particular. Although there are other things that can influence the industry – such as consumer electronics collections, legislation and regulations and export issues – I believe that these 3 factors will have a more profound impact on the future of electronics recycling.
The most recent data on the industry – from a survey conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC) and sponsored by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) – found that the industry (in 2010) handled approximately 3.5 million tons of electronics with revenues of $5 billion and directly employed 30,000 people – and that it has been growing at about 20% annually for the past decade. But will this growth continue?
Personal computer equipment has dominated volumes handled by the electronics recycling industry. The IDC study reported that over 60% by weight of industry input volumes was “computer equipment” (including PCs and monitors). But recent reports by IDC and Gartner show that shipments of desktop and laptop computers have declined by more than 10% and that the shipments of smartphones and tablets now each exceed that of PCs. About 1 billion smart phones will be shipped in 2013 – and for the first time exceed the volumes of conventional cell phones. And shipments of ultra-light laptops and laptop-tablet hybrids are increasing rapidly. So, we are entering the “Post-PC Era”.
In addition, CRT TVs and monitors have been a significant portion of the input volumes (by weight) in the recycling stream – up to 75% of the “consumer electronics” stream. And the demise of the CRT means that fewer CRT TVs and monitors will be entering the recycling stream – replaced by smaller/lighter flat screens.
So, what do these technology trends mean to the electronics recycling industry? Do these advances in technology, which lead to size reduction, result in a “smaller materials footprint” and less total volume (by weight)? Since mobile devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets) already represent larger volumes than PCs – and probably turn over faster – they will probably dominate the future volumes entering the recycling stream. And they are not only much smaller, but typically cost less than PCs. And, traditional laptops are being replaced by ultra-books as well as tablets – which means that the laptop equivalent is a lot smaller and weighs less.
So, even with continually increasing quantities of electronics, the weight volume entering the recycling stream may begin decreasing. Typical desktop computer processors weigh 15-20 lbs. Traditional laptop computers weigh 5-7 lbs. But the new “ultra-books” weigh 3-4 lbs. So, if “computers” (including monitors) have comprised about 60% of the total industry input volume by weight and TVs have comprised a large portion of the volume of “consumer electronics” (about 15% of the industry input volume) – then up to 75% of the input volume may be subject to the weight reduction of new technologies – perhaps as much as a 50% reduction. And, similar technology change and size reduction is occurring in other markets – e.g., telecommunications, industrial, medical, etc.
However, the inherent value of these devices may be higher than PCs and CRTs (for resale as well as scrap – per unit weight). So, industry weight volumes may decrease, but revenues could continue to increase (with resale, materials recovery value and services). And, since mobile devices are expected to turn over more rapidly than PCs (which have typically turned over in 3-5 years), these changes in the electronics recycling stream may happen within 5 years or less.
Another factor for the industry to consider, as recently reported by E-Scrap News – “The overall portability trend in computing devices, including traditional form-factors, is characterized by integrated batteries, components and non-repairable parts. With repair and refurbishment increasingly difficult for these types of devices, e-scrap processors will face significant challenges in determining the best way to manage these devices responsibly, as they gradually compose an increasing share of the end-of-life management stream.” So, does that mean that the resale potential for these smaller devices may be less?
The electronics recycling industry has traditionally focused on PCs and consumer electronics, but what about infrastructure equipment? – such as servers/data centers/cloud computing, telecom systems, cable network systems, satellite/navigation systems, defense/military systems. These sectors generally use larger, higher value equipment and have significant (and growing?) volumes. They are not generally visible or thought of when considering the electronics recycling industry, but may be an increasingly important and larger share of the volumes that it handles. And some, if not much, of this infrastructure is due to change in technology – which will result in a large volume turnover of equipment. GreenBiz.com reports that “… as the industry overhauls and replaces… servers, storage and networking gear to accommodate massive consolidation and virtualization projects and prepare for the age of cloud computing… the build-out of cloud computing, the inventory of physical IT assets will shift from the consumer to the data center… While the number of consumer devices is increasing, they are also getting smaller in size. Meanwhile, data centers are being upgraded and expanded, potentially creating a large amount of future e-waste.”
But, outside the U.S. – and in developing countries in particular – the input volume weight to the electronics recycling stream will increase significantly – as the usage of electronic devices spreads to a broader market and an infrastructure for recycling is developed. In addition, developing countries will continue to be attractive markets for the resale of used electronics.
In the IDC study, over 75% by weight of industry output volumes was found to be “commodity grade scrap”. And more than half of that was “metals”. Precious metals represent a small portion of the volume – the average concentration of precious metals in electronics scrap is measured in grams per ton. But their recovery value is a significant portion of the total value of commodity grade scrap from electronics.
Precious metals prices have increased significantly in recent years. The market prices for gold, silver, palladium and platinum have each more than doubled over the past five years. However, gold and silver have historically been very volatile since their prices are driven primarily by investors. Their prices seem to have peaked – and are now significantly below their high points last year. Whereas, platinum and palladium prices have traditionally been driven by demand (e.g., manufacturing – like electronics and automotive applications) and generally more stable.
Telecommunications equipment and cell phones generally have the highest precious metals content – up to 10 times the average of scrap electronics based on per unit weight. As technology advances, the precious metals content of electronics equipment generally decreases – due to cost reduction learning. However, the smaller, newer devices (e.g., smart phones, tablets) have higher precious metals content per unit weight than conventional electronics equipment – such as PCs. So, if the weight volume of electronics equipment handled by the electronics industry decreases, and the market prices for precious metals decreases – or at least does not increase – will the recovery value of precious metals from electronics scrap decrease? Probably the recovery value of precious metals from electronics scrap per unit weight will increase since more electronics products are getting smaller/lighter, but have a higher concentration of precious metals (e.g., cell phones) than traditional e-scrap in total. So, this aspect of the industry may actually become more cost efficient. But the total industry revenue from commodity scrap – and especially precious metals – may not continue to increase.
The electronics recycling industry in the U.S. can be thought of as comprising 4 tiers of companies. From the very largest – that process well in excess of 20 up to more than 200 million lbs. per year – to medium, small and the very smallest companies – that process less than 1 million lbs. per year. The top 2 tiers (which represent about 35% of the companies) process approximately 75% of the industry volume. The number of companies in “Tier 1” has already decreased due to consolidation – and continued industry consolidation will probably drive it more towards the familiar 80/20 model. Although there are over 1000 companies operating in the electronics recycling industry in the U.S., I estimate that the “Top 50” companies process almost half of the total industry volume.
What will happen to the smaller companies? The mid-size companies will either merge, acquire, get acquired or partner to compete with the larger companies. The small and smallest companies will either find a niche or disappear. So, the total number of companies in the electronics recycling industry will probably decrease. And more of the volumes will be handled by the largest companies. As with any maturing industry, the most cost efficient and profitable companies will survive and grow.
What are the implications of these trends?
• The total weight of input volumes will probably not continue to grow (as it has at 20% annually) – and may actually decrease in the U.S.
• The electronics recycling industry will continue to consolidate – and the largest companies will handle most of the industry volumes.
• The inherent value for resale and materials recovery will probably increase per unit volume.
• Reuse and services may become a more significant part of the total industry revenue than recycling and materials recovery.
In an environment of consolidation and potentially decreasing volumes, developing additional capacity or starting a new facility for electronics recycling in the U.S. could be very risky. Acquiring the most cost efficient existing capacity available would be more prudent.