05-07-2020 | | By Robin Mitchell
Samsung received Zero Waste to Landfill for all its global semiconductor manufacturing sites. What does this entail for a company, and why is it important for a more sustainable future?
When designing products for use in the European market, there are strict rules on what chemicals are allowed to be present in the final product. The EU legislation, known as RoHS, stands for Reduction of Hazardous Substances, and ensures that commercial products do not contain chemicals harmful for human health, and the greater environment. This legislation is often referred to as the “lead-free” directive as lead is listed as a banned substance which immediately saw all electronic devices being soldered with lead-free solder (of course, there are plenty of engineers who still stock lead solder thanks to its lower melting point and superior qualities). However, referring to RoHS as the lead-free directive is misleading as there are other chemicals which would commonly be found in old electronics that can no longer be used. LDRs are a common example which, despite still being manufactured, contain cadmium which is on the list of RoHS chemicals.
While products containing harmful chemicals are not great for human health, they can have a long-lasting impact on the environment around them. In the past, the vast majority of electronics were discarded to landfills which, over time, would see a build-up of dangerous chemicals as a result of them leaking from products. These chemicals would then continue to spread further underground, which would put underground water sources at great risk. To help prevent this, the EU introduced the WEEE regulations which put obligations on companies that produce electronic products to ensure that a recycling option is always available to devices which need to be discarded.
Credit: Samsung Newsroom
If electronics waste is considered bad, then semiconductor waste would be nuclear by comparison. While semiconductors themselves are relatively benign, the production of them is riddled with highly toxic compounds that are incredibly dangerous to living organisms, and have long-lasting effects on the environment around them. A few examples of acidic chemicals needed in the semiconductor industry include hydrofluoric acid, nitric acid, ammonia, N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, hydrochloric acid, nitrate compounds, and sulfuric acid. Other chemicals needed include acetone, isopropanol, and trichloroethylene, all of which are highly toxic. Of course, semiconductor manufacturers take steps to ensure that workers exposed to such chemicals is minimised, but despite the US having banned specific chemicals after it was discovered that female workers had double the miscarriage rate, factories in the far east were still using them for the production of devices. Therefore, it is clear that semiconductor manufacturers ensure that the amount of waste sent to landfills is minimised at all costs, which is a move that Samsung has taken.
Samsung, a global semiconductor manufacturer, has just been awarded a gold rating by UL for its zero-waste to landfill policy. While the rating only requires up to 95% recycle rate, Samsung has not only achieved this throughout all of its sites, but it has even achieved platinum at one site in Hwaseong, Korea, with a recycling rate of 100%. The certification not only requires that waste is diverted from landfills but must not be thermally processed, meaning that waste cannot be melted down or incinerated. To achieve this goal, Samsung utilised modern technological practices to reuse and recycle waste materials. While not much information is given, an image released by Samsung shows a warehouse full of plastic silicon wafer containers. From this, we can deduce that in typical scenarios these would have been disposed of, but are most likely being sent back to silicon wafer providers.
Credit: Samsung Newsroom
“The Zero Waste to Landfill Gold validation is testament to the care and effort by our employees around the world to protect the environment. Eco-friendly operations are now a must for any business and we will continue to ensure sustainable growth that is mindful of the environment that we live and operate in.”
Chanhoon Park, executive vice president of global infrastructure technology at Samsung Electronics.
Samsung’s ability to minimise its production waste to near 100% is a step towards a more sustainable manufacturing environment. While there are those that would argue against the impacts of climate change or how much human behaviour affects it, it is hard to argue that preventing the release of toxic chemicals into the environment is not a step in the right direction.