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Third party solder recycling

Assemblers of electronic systems in Europe generate many different forms of waste and are liable, under recycling regulations, for their soldering waste, including dross, paste and solder contaminated waste.

It remains common for most companies to send their old solder to new solder suppliers, rather than commission third parties to handle it because of the legal uncertainty and risks associated with processing it. If the waste is handled improperly by the recipient, then the electronics manufacturer could face litigation.

MTM NE-Metalle is currently the only trader in Germany certified for the handling of old solder according to ISO 9001: 2015. It provides free advice and solutions for the safe disposal of solder. Thanks to that ISO 9001:2015 certification, the company is seen as a first port of call for component assemblers when it comes to managing solder waste.

MTM NE-Metalle also offers training in how best to handle these harmful materials.

“We work with around 300 tonnes of solder waste per year, and are as such the largest service provider in Europe for the recycling of used solder material”, explains Dan Mutschler, managing director of MTM NE-Metalle. “Using our expertise, we can support any component manufacturer that needs to take care of its waste.”

Crucially, the company guarantees legal certainty when disposing of solder waste by keeping documentation in which the recycling process is precisely recorded for auditing purposes.

Efficient handling and a short supply chain saves money and time, suggests Mutschler.

“When dealing with used solder material, sorting is important to ensure high recovery rates and effective utilisation”, he explains. “Although you can just mix all the solder waste, this makes neither economical nor ecological sense, since this in turn makes reprocessing much more difficult. This is inconsistent with the concept of sustainable recycling and material utilisation.”

The various additives found in solder waste, including nickel, germanium, silver, bismuth and phosphorus, require metallurgical expertise to sort them efffectively. MTM NE-Metalle addresses this by carrying out material analysis using various spectrometers and RFA devices. This is the only way to correctly classify the waste solder so that a qualified recycling process can be selected.

“It is not uncommon that through our material analysis of the solder waste, component assemblers gain information about the impurities in their production process which might otherwise go unnoticed”, Mutschler suggests. This optimises the recovery rate for old solder, ensuring the best possible utilisation of the waste.

Transporting rules
Transport routes are another consideration and can planned more efficiently when experts for new and old solder become involved.

"It is not uncommon that, through our material analysis of solder waste, that assemblers get information about the impurities in their production process which might otherwise go unnoticed."
Dan Mutschler

“When commissioning a third party, the waste producer – the component assembler – should seek advice about regional and national statutes. In the event that international disposal agencies are involved, you will also need to consider international statutes”, Mutschler states. “This represents a huge jungle of logistical and legal problems which are beyond the abilities of the uninitiated.”

In addition, much of the solder waste cannot even be processed by the solder manufacturers themselves, so this waste must then be sold on to specialised metallurgical plants equipped with special smelting plants, pyrolysis and vacuum distillation ovens as well as electrolysis systems.

MTM NE-Metalle has a well-established network in the industry and has made it its mission to select the shortest and most efficient supply chains so that complete processing and recycling can be achieved. As such, the recyclable waste is delivered in an environmentally and cost-effective manner to those sites where it can be used. This means there is only one interim storage facility in which the material is sorted by experts before it is prepared for the recycling pathway.

Since solder waste can sometimes be dangerous, it is crucial that transport safety is maintained.

“When there is a risk of transport damage, the waste can often leak out of poorly chosen packaging, such as cardboard cartons, which can then lead to environmental pollution.” Mutschler adds. “Even when using disposal companies, contaminants can still gain access by seeping into the material. For legitimate and safe transport from the production site to its final processing location it’s essential that a company needs to use its own containers.”

While MTM NE-Metalle can supply material-specialised drums for storage and transport, e.g. buckets, hobbocks and drums with capacities ranging from 9 litres to 216 litres, it tends to adapt the containers to the needs of its customers’ specific production sites.

During handling and transport, however, occupational safety must also be considered and the employer will be obliged to pay attention to the safety needs of its employees.

For example, excessively large loads should not be moved around.

“It may of course be beneficial from an economical perspective if a container with a capacity of 60 litres is used, but filling to a weight of as much as 100kg can pose an unacceptably high risk of having an accident”, warns Mutschler. “That is why we offer suitable handling aids, such as small cranes, so that the material can be loaded correctly. In addition, we also advise companies on how to deal with their waste”.

Training sessions
Training sessions are used to sensitise and qualify employees.

“Many companies are specialised in the production of component assemblies and are familiar with the corresponding electronics and DIN standards”, explains Mutschler. “However, the issue of waste management often only plays a subordinate role. We are the only service provider in Germany to be certified according to ISO 9001(2015) for the handling of used solder materials”.

MTM NE-Metalle also offers training courses on dealing with old solder. In this way, it hopes to make every waste producer aware of waste legislation and packaging regulations.

Under national regulations, each material is categorised according to a waste code number and must be handled differently wherever necessary. Above all, knowledge about a company’s own duties in the choice of the waste disposer is important because not every company has the professional competence and the required reliability standard.

“Many self-proclaimed waste disposal companies often do not have sufficient knowledge of waste disposal law, nor do they have environmental liabilities, let alone sufficient liability to cover any insurance claims. Since the waste producer, i.e. the component assembler, can also be held liable after the commissioning of third parties, we strongly advise against using these types of companies”, Mutschler suggests. “In our training courses we draw attention to the usual pitfalls, so that companies can then recognise with whom they can actually work.”

There are also different obligations regarding documentation, which are dealt with comprehensively in the training courses. In addition, employees are made aware of the background of what happens during the recycling of the materials, and what must be ensured during storage and transport.

“Complex logistical and physical processes are involved, which at first glance may not even be suspected”, says Mutschler.

“With the proper training, employees will be thoroughly informed about how to deal with old soldered waste and become aware of what to look for, as well as the mode of disposal which is ecologically and economically the most appropriate.”

New Electronics

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