Tampa group recycles rare earth elements - WFLA News Channel 8

Tampa group recycles rare earth elements

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Remember the Periodic Table of Elements? There are 17 of those elements known as rare earth elements. These elements are used in many electronics.

"Some of it is for the brightness," said Brian Diesselhorst with Creative Recycling. "On the iPhone there's a certain rare earth that helps produce a brighter red. Some of them are used for conductivity."

Diesselhorst explains that mining these rare earth elements can be a toxic process. Right now, 95%-97% of all of these elements are mined in China.

"They are used in everything: smarter newer technology, defense applications, wind turbines, your cell phones, your iPhones, your iPads. It's a little tricky when China controls 95%-97% of the supply," said Diesselhorst.

Creative Recycling, headquartered in Tampa, already partners with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to recycle the electronics brought to recycling sites. The company separates out the plastic, glass and metal from these end-of-life devices. Now, the company has started sorting and recycling the rare earth elements in them as well.

"We can pull out rare earth elements from hard drives, cell phones, CRT televisions, florescent bulbs," said Diesselhorst.

Creative Recycling's Maryland plant has the nation's only machine that can separate these elements to prepare them for recycling. The machine, called a Blubox, shreds flat panel televisions and florescent bulbs into a powder.

"We're working with some European refiners to really separate the mercury that's found in these florescent bulbs and in LCD televisions from the rare earth elements to then recycle those," said Diesselhorst.

The idea of recycling rare earth elements is still in its infancy, but Creative Recycling is investing in the technology now to ensure less dependence on other countries in the future.

"As things become miniaturized not only are we going to need more rare earths, but things are going to be easier to recycle," said Diesselhorst.

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