A Review on the Applicability of Life Cycle Assessment to Evaluate the Technical and Environmental Properties of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment

Abstract

Acrylonitrile–butadiene–styrene (ABS) copolymer and high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) are the plastics most commonly found in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), although properties generally decline with recycling. Technical studies are important in assessing the properties of recycled plastics and obtaining better evidence of their return or not to the same production cycle, through a study of their impacts and life cycle assessment (LCA). This article aimed at a literature search for information that demonstrates the importance of considering the technical property results of LCA studies on WEEE plastics. LCA studies show that recycling WEEE plastics, when compared with virgin raw material, prevents 87% of ABS gas emissions, in addition to reducing energy consumption by up to 90% for ABS and HIPS. However, some technical properties of recycled WEEE polymer material, such as impact strength and ultimate elongation, decline when compared to virgin materials, which may hinder their reinsertion into the same production cycle. These properties can be enhanced by preparing compatible mixtures of ABS and HIPS, or by mixing them with virgin polymers. Recycled ABS (not mixed with another material) can return to the same production cycle when the goal is to preserve the modulus of elasticity. Studies that investigate properties using LCA are scarce. However, they are important in determining the viability of the material returning or not to the same production cycle, which would impact the process and produce different LCA results. Recycled ABS and HIPS polymers from WEEE can return to the same function even if some properties decline, since properties can be improved when the polymers are properly mixed or made compatible, thereby lowering costs and primarily minimizing the negative environmental impacts.

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Abbreviations

ABS:

Acrylonitrile–butadiene–styrene

CPU:

Central processing unit

CRT:

Cathodic Ray Tube

ED-XRF:

Energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry

EEE:

Electrical and electronic equipment

FTIR:

Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy

HIPS:

High-impact polystyrene

ICP-OES:

Inductively-Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry

LCA:

Life cycle assessment

LCD:

Liquid crystal display

LED:

Light-emitting diode

LIBS:

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy

MFI:

Melt Flow Index

NIRS:

Near-infrared spectroscopy

PA:

Polyamide

PB:

Polybutadiene rubber phase

PC:

Polycarbonate

PS:

Polystyrene

SAN:

Styrene-acrylonitrile copolymer

SBS:

Styrene-butadiene styrene copolymer

SBR:

Styrene-butadiene copolymer

SEM:

Scanning electron microscopy

WEEE:

Waste electrical and electronic equipment

TGA:

Thermogravimetric analysis

XRF:

X-ray fluorescence

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) for the scholarship awarded to Flávia Teixeira, the National Scientific Research Council (CNPq) and the Research Support Foundation of Rio de Janeiro state (FAPERJ).

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Correspondence to Flávia da Silva Müller Teixeira or Elen Beatriz Acordi Vasques Pacheco.

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da Silva Müller Teixeira, F., de Carvalho Peres, A.C., Gomes, T.S. et al. A Review on the Applicability of Life Cycle Assessment to Evaluate the Technical and Environmental Properties of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. J Polym Environ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10924-020-01966-7

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Keywords

  • Recycling
  • ABS
  • HIPS
  • Waste electrical and electronic equipment
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Properties