Recycling Lives develops England's first FPD processing centre

Recycling Lives has become the first company in England to have established a fully dedicated Flat Panel Display (FPD) processing centre at its plant.

The £250,000 Recycling Lives FPD installation has been developed under the guidance of industry experts, including Timothy McDonnell, a leading researcher from the University of Central Lancashire. McDonnell has been at the forefront of FPD research for the last four years and has completed a doctoral thesis on correct FPD disposal based on research undertaken at the Recycling Lives facilities.

The primary issues connected with FPD recycling are the complexity of FPD units – and thus the time involved in dismantling them – and the hazardous mercury backlights that are present in each unit.

At Recycling Lives’ FPD recycling centre, the disassembly process for FPD units has been broken down into stages in order to increase the efficiency of unit handling. Preparatory studies conducted over the last four years have included comparisons between FPD and cathode ray tube (CRT) recycling and, by comparing the two processes, the company has been able to incorporate the most effective procedures from CRT recycling into the FPD recycling method.

The result has been improvements in both speed and effectiveness, and the subsequent data has enabled Recycling Lives to develop a best practice for FPD recycling. The company anticipates that their FPD line will be able to process up to 1000 units per day at full capacity and, while current rates are naturally lower, figures are increasing at a rapid pace.  

As crucial as efficiency is, the speed of the FPD dismantling process needs to take into account the stark health and safety issues involved. When broken during manual disassembly, the lighting tubes behind FPD screens release toxic mercury vapours that are harmful to both the environment and to the staff who are processing them. The challenges involved in dealing with the health and safety aspects of mercury recycling are such that many waste management companies have shied away from FPD processing.

The development of the Recycling Lives FPD processing line has involved significant investment into health and safety testing, sophisticated mercury analysing equipment and a specially designed mercury-safe dismantling room, in addition to specialist protective equipment and training for staff on how to work safely in a potentially hazardous environment.

Once staff in the main area of the recycling centre have removed the plastic and metal components from the FPD units, the remaining screen and mercury-filled fluorescent tubes enter the sealed mercury-safe room on a conveyor belt.

The staff members working in the room are rotated at regular short intervals in order to minimise the strain caused by working in heavy face-masks and bodysuits as they separate the mercury back lights from the FPD screens. The air in the room is replaced once every sixty seconds and all mercury is treated, sucked out into a separate unit and stored away from all other areas in preparation for external recycling.

David Allen, strategic development manager at the Recycling Lives FPD processing plant commented:

“Our ground-breaking flat panel display recycling facility is the result of years of study in conjunction with the University of Central Lancashire into the issues and complexities of FPD recycling. All aspects of the process have been carefully considered and the resultant processing line which has been developed is something we are very proud of at Recycling Lives.

“It is very important to us that we have a line which is a flagship FPD facility which sets the trend for how to correctly handle these units. We are now keen to engage with as many stakeholders as possible to ensure we can operate the line to as near to its capacity as possible.”