How an E-Recycling Center Works

Mar 10, 2021 | E-Cycling

A monitor ready for an e-recycling center

You’ve probably heard plenty about how beneficial an e-recycling center can be for the environment — if you haven’t, these centers keep harmful chemicals out of landfills and help reduce the need for mining of finite resources, among other benefits. Amidst all the hard pitching you see for e-cycling, you might wonder exactly how that process actually goes down. Here, we’ll pull back the curtain on electronic recycling in St. Louis and detail the process for you.

The E-Recycling Process

As you’ve probably guessed by now, an e-recycling center is a lot more complicated than your run-of-the-mill paper and plastic reprocessing plant. Electronics like cell phones and computers are made up of a lot of different materials, so they can’t be easily sorted like your old newspapers and water bottles. The process at an e-recycling center varies accordingly, meaning electronic recycling in St. Louis is a complex and diverse endeavor. 


The first step at any e-recycling center, though, is to collect the items that are to be recycled. That can include transporting items from wherever they are to the e-recycling center or holding special drives to encourage the public to come out and get rid of their old devices. Often offsite, the items from these drives then need to be taken to the e-recycling center for processing. That’s when the real work can begin.

Many e-recycling centers will check to see if the devices that have been donated are still functional, or if they could be easily refurbished and resold before they resort to breaking them into their parts and recycling the raw materials. The refurbished tech is also sometimes donated to schools and charities, so it’s always a good idea to check if your gadgets can be fixed up before giving them up to be broken into their parts.


When your devices have become pesky burdens instead of helpful servants (that is, they’re no longer functional) and the e-recycling center can’t salvage them, they generally get shredded. Once granddad’s boombox is nothing more than little bits of plastic and metal, those pieces get separated, sorted, and sold to be used in new gadgets.

However, the electronics recycling process doesn’t always happen this way — some sorts of technology, like rechargeable batteries, might explode in the shredder, so it’s generally prudent to remove them from that process. Another example of non-shreddable junk would be CRT monitors (think the fat TV your parents had before the flatscreen), which typically get taken apart manually because they contain so much lead — up to eight pounds of the stuff.


All of the materials have to be sorted after the e-recycling center has broken them down. This process often begins with a high-powered magnet. It’s deployed to separate out all the iron and steel to then be sold as recycled steel. Then, aluminum, copper, and circuit boards are separated out from the remaining materials. That leaves mostly plastic. A special process utilizing water separates out any glass that remains in with the plastic, and then if any metal remnants are still mixed in, those are taken out as well.

CRT Process

We mentioned CRT monitors before, and if you’re curious about how recycling those devices differs from other types of electronics, we’ll clarify a little.

Special Considerations

CRT stands for Cathode Ray Tubes, and those tubes are the main issue here. That means that recyclers have to first take the shell of the monitor off to get at those tubes. They do that step manually. Once the shell is gone, internal elements like the panel glass, glass tube, electronic chip boards, electron gun, and wiring are exposed. Those are separated out and sorted together so that each different type of material can be recycled according to the process that best fits its specific properties. 

The glass tube is one of the main elements, and inside of it is a vacuum seal. That makes it prone to imploding if improperly handled, so companies that do electronic recycling in St. Louis use specialized equipment to safely take the glass tubes apart. One of the other potentially hazardous elements inside the glass tubes is phosphorus, which has to be removed before the glass can be recycled.

As soon as all the different elements of a CRT monitor are separated and prepared properly, they can be shredded like other electronic waste. Magnets remove the iron and steel bits, and aluminum and copper are separated out as well. That leaves glass — leaded and unleaded. It has to be cleaned of any oxides, phosphorus, or dust, and then it’s ready to be sorted between those two types.

Leaded glass can be used to make new screens, but it might also be sent to smelters for other products, like batteries. Most of the different elements that are broken down and extracted can be sold to another plant to be further refined and then sold to a plant that produces new materials.

E-recycling centers can encapsulate this whole process, from sorting to shipping out the raw materials.

What happens to the raw materials?

So, the e-waste has been picked up and dropped off at an e-recycling center, it’s been broken down properly and sorted into all its different components, now what? Electronic recycling in St. Louis or anywhere is a multi-step process that involves different centers and plants completing different vital elements of recycling and reusing the raw materials.

Often, the raw materials that make up electronic devices, like metals, are sold to be used again in another gadget. Those elements are very valuable. Obviously, the harmful heavy metals in some devices are disposed of properly, sometimes at specialized facilities. The plastics left over get reused in new products as well.

The materials often need extra refinement to get them to a point where they can be reused in new products, and that process typically happens at specialized facilities, not the e-recycling centers themselves.

What challenges do e-recycling centers face?

These processes might sound straightforward, but there are still quite a few issues for organizations attempting electronic recycling in St. Louis or anywhere else. There are many steps to electronic recycling, and problems can arise at any of them.

The first challenges come with the first step of the process, which, as we discussed earlier, is the collection and transportation phase. Making sure potential donors know where to take their old electronics, where electronic recycling in St. Louis is offered, what to bring, and what to leave at home is the first hurdle e-recycling centers have to clear. If no one drops off any dead devices, nothing can be recycled.

Not only are there issues with customers not knowing how to recycle their devices, but there are also issues with the ways the devices are being made. They are becoming smaller, and therefore yielding less precious metal and becoming less valuable to recyclers. 

What’s more, they’re being made in ways that are harder to recycle, as well. Repairing devices like smartphones is discouraged based on their design, and that adds to the abundance of e-waste in landfills. Therefore, it’s extra important to make sure you take part in electronic recycling in St. Louis.

E-Recycling Requirements

Now that you’re more knowledgeable about what goes on behind the scenes at an e-recycling center, you’re probably wondering where you can find one. Electronic recycling in St. Louis is not particularly hard to come by, so that’s a good place to start if you live in the area. 


Missouri law does not require most electronics to be recycled, but the department of Natural Resources strongly encourages it. There are plenty of opportunities for electronic recycling in St. Louis and across the state to comply with this recommendation. 

It’s important to note, though, that Missouri law does require certain hazardous wastes that are sometimes found in electronics to be disposed of properly and not just left out for trash pickup, and it also requires businesses, schools, and certain other institutions to keep certain unwanted electronics out of landfills. You’ll probably want to check the laws yourself to make sure you’re in the clear, but either way, finding a good resource for electronic recycling in St. Louis is one way to make sure you’re compliant with the law.

Items that do require electronic recycling in St. Louis and the rest of the state are electronics that contain heavy metals. Some examples there would be computer monitors, televisions, and circuit boards. If you have some of these to get rid of, an e-recycling center is definitely the way to go.


On the other side of the Mississippi, however, the laws are a bit stricter. The state of Illinois requires that the following types of items all be recycled:

  • Computers and small-scale servers
  • Computer monitors
  • Electronic keyboards and mice
  • Printers, fax machines, and scanners
  • Televisions
  • DVD players, DVD recorders, and VCRs
  • Digital converter boxes, cable receivers, and satellite receivers
  • Portable digital music players and video game consoles

Again, you’ll want to double check the Illinois requirements and guidelines for yourself before deciding on a course of action, but electronic recycling in St. Louis could be the perfect solution if you have to get rid of some old devices. 

The Benefits of Local E-Recycling Centers

You might be aware of e-recycling opportunities where you ship your old items overseas. This may sound like an appealing prospect, but lots of those e-recycling centers aren’t ethically operated. In some developing countries, workers (sometimes children) take the e-waste apart by hand. They’re often not governed by the same environmental protections as e-recycling centers in more developed countries are, leading to pollution. They often burn the devices to access the components they can resell, and that can release harmful chemicals into the air. 

Electronic recycling in St. Louis, however, can be a process devoid of these unethical and environmentally unfriendly practices. It’s best to try to stay local when you’re looking for an e-recycling center so you know exactly where your devices are being broken down. The different centers you’re considering should be happy to answer any questions you have about their process.

In Review

So, let’s sum this all up. Electronic recycling in St. Louis is an important process because it helps to keep our environment healthy by keeping harmful materials out of landfills. When you find somewhere to drop your unwanted electronic devices, they take many steps to turn your trash into raw materials that can be used in shiny new gadgets. 

This process differs depending on what type of device you’ve dropped off. Most common devices, like smartphones, can be shredded pretty immediately. However, bigger, more toxic items, like CRT monitors, have to undergo a specialized process. They are taken apart manually first to get rid of any potentially dangerous materials before they hit the shredder. 

Different mechanisms, including high-powered magnets and water power, are used to separate the bits and pieces of the e-waste into the different raw materials that comprise them. Those raw materials, such as glass, copper, and steel, are then grouped together and sold to other facilities that can further refine them. Once they’re fully refined, they can be used in new products.

The e-recycling process isn’t always smooth sailing, though. Challenges can arise at every phase. The shrinking size of electronics makes them harder and less beneficial to recycle, as they contain fewer valuable materials the smaller they get. And of course, many people are unaware of how vital electronics recycling is. They might not be aware of the different rules and regulations about the safe and environmentally friendly disposal of old electronics, or they might just not know where e-recycling is offered. 

Recycle your electronics today.

Electronic recycling in St. Louis is imperative to keeping our environment as healthy as possible, and it doubles as an ethical way to declutter. Leaving decades of gadgets that have seen better days to collect dust in your basement isn’t doing anyone any favors. So, with spring cleaning season upon us, find your nearest e-recycling center and get rid of your derelict devices as soon as possible — that way, they can live another life, and you can get your basement back.