Earth Day: Rare Earth Magnet Recycling
Have you purchased rare earth magnets or bought items containing magnets and questioned how to dispose of them when you’re finished? We’ve covered the topic of recycling and reusing rare earth magnets in blogs before, so to celebrate Earth Day, we’ve rounded some key topics to keep you up-to-date on this important topic.
Today, recycling remains a critical issue in environmental discussions, but plastic and glass are not the only materials with an environmental impact. After all, it is estimated that only one percent of rare earth elements (REE) are recycled from end products for modern technologies. For example, magnets are in many of the devices we discard, but they are often forgotten.
Many simply don’t know how to dispose of magnets safely or reuse them when it comes to recycling! the recycling process can be costly and time-consuming, meaning fewer magnets are recycled than purchased. Currently, China produces over 90 percent of REE, but the country has strict regulations on exports. This makes learning how to recycle and repurpose REE essential to keeping them accessible.
Recycling Rare Earth Magnets
Extracting REE from existing devices and equipment (such as computer hard drives and cell phones) is one way to recycle materials such as neodymium magnets. However, this is often a tricky process because of the number of elements in the electronics and the separation of those elements that must occur in order to extract the REE. In a previous blog post, we discussed how the University of Pennsylvania and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers found more effective ways to recycle REE from electronics and reuse the materials in new equipment, such as using old computer hard drives in an axial gap electric motor.
REEs are used to produce many everyday items such as modern-day smartphones, cameras, headphones, sound systems, electric car motors, and more. Before disposing of your devices and equipment, REEs can be extracted and later reused through a process called urban mining. There are several methods of urban mining, including shredding and e-waste, which involves shredding the waste and loading it into furnaces with up to 1100 degrees Celsius temperatures. Extracting REEs from cell phones is accomplished through electrolysis, where an electric current converts the material into copper.
Disposing of Neodymium, Cobalt, & Ceramic Magnets
Processes such as urban mining are not scalable for most businesses, but there are other methods used to dispose of REEs, such as neodymium and cobalt. These materials must be thermally demagnetized first; neodymium magnets can be demagnetized by heating them to 176 degrees Fahrenheit or above, at which they lose their magnetic properties. Certain tools such as Apex’s screwdriver and precision tool demagnetizers can pass an alternating current through the magnetic objects. Shielding is another process that involves using iron or steel sheets to line the interior of a container before placing the magnets inside, ensuring that the magnets cannot stick to other ferrous metals in a landfill. Ceramic magnets are not as powerful as REEs and can be more easily disposed of, but demagnetizing and shielding are still the correct practices.
How Magnets Can Help Recycling Efforts
Not only is it vital to understand how magnets can be reused or disposed of, but it is also important to note that magnets can aid in recycling efforts in general. For instance, Magnomer recently developed a method of making plastic bottles more recycle-friendly. The process works by using magnetizable ink that may be printed on labels. When the leftover plastic materials pass through the conveyor belt, the magnetized label is separated from the other plastic parts. This ensures that the wrap-around labels, which are not recycle-friendly, can be removed while the rest of the bottle is chopped into recyclable pieces.
Purchase Your Next Rare Earth Magnets from Apex Magnets
Knowing the safe and effective ways to dispose of and reuse magnetic materials will ultimately help protect the environment. Furthermore, it will keep rare earth magnets accessible to all.
For more discoveries, you can follow our Magnets in the News content or our Apex Magnets blog. If you would like to purchase rare earth magnets from Apex, you can browse our online catalog. We offer compare feature to help you find the exact size, grade, material, and pull force for your needs.