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Reducing Life Cycle Environmental Impacts of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Recycling

Case Study on Dishwashers


Address correspondence to:
Anna Björklund
Environmental Strategies Research—fms
Royal Institute of Technology, KTH
Drottning Kristinas väg 30
SE-10044 Stockholm, Sweden.


Collection and treatment of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is regulated in the European Union by the WEEE Directive. Producers are responsible for take-back and recycling of discarded equipment. Valuable materials are, however, at risk of “getting lost” in current processes. Thus, strategies to minimize losses are sought after.

The material hygiene (MH) concept was introduced to address this issue. Structural features, which are important for the outcome of reuse, recovery, and recycling, were investigated in an earlier field study of discarded dishwashers. It was proposed that a prestep, manual removal of copper prior to shredding could increase the purity of recovered material fractions.

This article builds on the field study and theoretical reasoning underlying the MH concept. Dishwashers are assumed to be designed for disassembly when the prestep is introduced. A limited life cycle assessment was performed to determine whether the proposed prestep may be environmentally beneficial in a life cycle perspective. Two alternatives were analyzed:

Case 1: the current shredding process.

Case 2: prestep removal of copper before shredding.

Targeted disassembly prior to shredding may reduce the abiotic depletion and global warming potential in a life cycle perspective. The prestep results in increased copper recovery, but, more important, copper contamination of the recovered steel fractions is reduced. The results also highlight the importance of minimizing energy consumption in all process stages.