"Copper comes out of the circuit boards and other materials that we send to refinery," he says. "There is also a fair amount of copper that comes out of old CRT televisions.
"We manually disassemble upwards of a thousand of those every single day in Edmonton, believe it or not," he continues. "Inside is a component called a copper yoke located near the back end of the tube, with substantial pure copper windings on it. These yokes result in a fair bit of copper that comes out of that process."
He notes that batteries are a particularly challenging aspect of handling mixed waste materials.
"There are so many different types of formulations," says Schell. "You'd think maybe there's only half a dozen different types of batteries, but there's probably 100 different types. The different formulations require different recycling. Some of it, you can actually recycle and reuse and capture, like with lithium batteries. They actually pull the Lithium out, and can reuse it. Alkaline batteries have to go to a hazardous waste facility."
He says they also get a lot of lead-acid batteries through their facility, which are sent off to a recycler - but it's still a challenge.
"It's becoming more difficult because of rules on transportation and rules on how much you can actually store at any given time.
"Lithiums though are the worst type of battery for us. They can start a fire and can be difficult to handle."
End markets, design for recycling and an evolving industry
Chinese import restrictions that have been put in place over the last few years have definitely affected the e-waste recovery business.
"It was the primary downstream for many in our industry," Schell says, adding "When I run e-waste through my shredder, I end up with a lot of small-fraction plastic."
One particular challenge with plastics he explains, like with batteries, is that there's so many different types of formulations. "It's not like you can just take up a big bale of plastic from printers and CRTs and flat-screen TVs and wherever else and just melt it down and then extrude it into a pellet. It just won't work. Whoever buys it is going to get inconsistent materials when they use it for their products.
"We've found alternative markets that are environmentally conscious," he says. "It's taken some of value out of the plastic but there are still places where we can send it."
When it comes to the global issue surrounding the use of illegal foreign end markets for dumping e-waste materials, Schell says that they do not send anything to places that haven't been fully vetted and approved by either the R2 program or by the Alberta Recycling program.
"Both of those programs require that e-waste materials not go to third world countries, for example," he says, adding that overall, he feels the global issue of illegal dumping of e-waste is improving somewhat. Besides better regulations and understanding about the issue, along with the industry's increased adoption of regulations and standards such as R2 and e-Stewards, which make it harder for those trying to ship e-waste overseas, Schell says part of the reason for this improving global situation lies with changes in manufacturing practices.
"Manufacturers, for the most part, are making things better now," says Schell. "Many are making items so that they're more easily recyclable." As an example, he points to the fact that they do not run into leaded glass as much anymore because lead-based CRTs are no longer being manufactured. "We're still going through the backlog of those that have been around for decades though," he adds. "Now, we have flat-screen TVs, almost everything is an LED now, and there's nothing really dangerous about handling those."
Another problematic material they don't see as much anymore is Mercury. "Old LCDs with tubes that had Mercury in them aren't being made anymore," he says. "There are better manufacturing methods that are being used now, without the use of Mercury."