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Researchers and officials in the state of Georgia can now make informed decisions on environmental recycling policy guided by a modeled solution approach developed by Jane Ammons, ISyE's NSF ADVANCE Professor of Engineering. Dr. Ammons is chair of Georgia's Computer Equipment and Disposal Recycling Council. Using her model, the Council which advises the Governor and legislature has an objective and quantitative basis to simulate the effectiveness of environmental actions before policies are issued.
Assisted by Chemical Engineering professor Matthew Realff and a team of graduate students, Dr. Ammons, operating on a National Science Foundation grant, continues to expand the model that was developed in 1998 for the design of infrastructures to recycle electronic equipment, or e-waste.
E-waste, the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world, develops from discarded computers, televisions, VCRs, electronic games, cell phones, and other electronic equipment. Although aggressive computer recycling efforts delay the ultimate disposal of these electronics, the products eventually become e-waste materials glass, wire, certain plastics, and metals such as lead, copper, aluminum, and gold.
Ammons' solution lies in "reverse production" systems infrastructures designed to recover and reuse materials contained in e-waste. The recycling part of the process entails re-distribution of equipment to new or extended uses before resorting to the recovery phase, which involves collection of raw materials. Scientists are concerned with the high amounts of contaminants that pose a threat to groundwater and eventually affect drinking water.
The original Georgia Tech case study determined a successful model of an economically effective reverse production system. After solving the model over numerous what-if' scenarios, the results showed that the most effective recycling systems occur as a result of increasing collection and usability percentages. An overview of the original case study appears in the Spring 2003 issue of Engineering Enterprise.
According to Dr. Ammons, in the last year, "the model has been extended to include brand new methodology and robust optimization that is promising for large scale systems." The model, with improved data, includes explicit design of collection systems and is being expanded to represent each collector and processor as an independent agent.
It also considers economic factors such as distance, cost of fuel, and labor used in transporting materials and parts.
The modeling process has captured the interest of national and international researchers. With this effort, Georgia Tech continues to set the agenda to deal with e-waste in an effective and environmentally responsible manner.
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