How to Recycle Circuit Boards- 3 Main Circuit Board Recycling Methods

Learn how to recycle circuit boards to understand how to tackle the voluminous electronic wastes that are increasing daily.

We’re in a world whereby new technological advancements render our good old devices obsolete. 

In a bid to catch up with the developments, we’re finding ourselves in scenarios whereby we must cast away our old electronics. 

So is there a way of getting something out of the parts? Definitely, yeah, and this is what we’ll elaborately cover in this guide. 

What to do with Old Circuit Boards?

Do not just indiscriminately throw away your old circuit boards, as you can use them in several ways.

Below, we bring you valuable ways to deal with electronic trash, specifically the circuit board. 

Sell the Circuit Boards

Electronic circuits garbage. 

Electronic circuits garbage. 

Companies are willing to buy your old electronic stuff for recycling circuit boards. Most buy these items at a reasonable price for components you otherwise had no use for.

Therefore, consider selling them rather than having them occupy precious space in your house. 

This will be a great way of keeping the surroundings clean, as electronic garbage is one of the most rampant environmental contaminants. 

Recycle the Circuit Boards

You do not have to do PCB recycling by yourself as there are companies that deal with electronics and PCB recycling.

Most parts of a PCB are recoverable, so it would be best if you sold them to a recycler to recover the useful components. 

Again, this is a way of recouping the cash you spend buying the electronics while keeping them away from the spiraling dumpsites. 

Use them in DIY Projects 

A DIY electronics project. 

A DIY electronics project. 

If you’re a DIY enthusiast, you can also use the parts in your simple electronics projects, although this means you must know how to recover the valuable components. 

Luckily, numerous online tutorials give a plethora of projects you can do at home with old electronic parts. 

Check them out on YouTube or conduct an online search to find them. 

What are the challenges of recycling circuit boards?

Electronic waste is ready for recycling. 

Electronic waste is ready for recycling. 

Here are some problems you’ll likely encounter when recycling circuit boards. 

  • First, beware of the toxic chemicals and elements of the circuit board and their components. For instance, some contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury that, if improperly handled, can have long-term harm to humans. 
  • Also, you can only recycle the electronic components if you have the hands-on technique to deal with them, as most are very delicate. If mishandled, you cannot recover them. 
  • Lastly, due to toxic substances in some PCB parts, you must dispose of them correctly; otherwise, they will harm surrounding flora and fauna. 

How Are PCBs Recycled?

We use three main techniques for PCB ballast recycling: 

Chemical recovering

Digesting a circuit board. 

Digesting a circuit board. 

This technique involves immersing the PCB in a concentrated acid solution like wet etching.

It removes the metal parts plus the components, which are digested and dissolved into the acid solution. 

Next, you can recover the plain PCB without any components onboard. Nonetheless, since the recycling solution contains dissolved metals, some of which are toxic, you need to dispose of them carefully. 

Thermal Recovering

The method utilizes heat to heat the PCB and is effective in recovering copper on the board, although it destroys the FR-4

Again, exercise caution when recovering via heating as primarily, this technique yields harmful gases such as dioxin and lead compounds. 

Physical Recovering

Shredded circuit board ready for smelting. 

Shredded circuit board ready for smelting. 

This is a more mechanical technique for recovering PCB parts. It involves cutting the boards into pieces and sorting out the metal components from the non-metals.

Nonetheless, it comes with two primary disadvantages: 

  • First, it is more time-consuming and arduous than the methods mentioned above. 
  • Also, it is not 100% safe, given that shreds of the PCB can break into small bits to form dust which is harmful to the eyes and the respiratory system. 

But if you’re keen on recovering all the metal parts of your circuit board, this is the go-to technique. 

How to Recycle Recovered Copper and Tin from Printed Circuit Boards

Recovered Electronic Components. 

Recovered Electronic Components. 

Copper is the most common element in circuit boards as, in addition to making the component pins, it is also the underlying material that facilitates connections on the PCB.

Therefore, recovering it means it can be useful in other processes in PCB manufacturing. 

Here are the common recycling techniques. 

Edge Trim

First, you should remove the valuable metallic elements making the circuit board, such as platinum and silver.

You only need to treat the PCB with a stripping solution that will remove all the metals. 

Next, shred the trim and put the PCB parts in a cyclone separator to extract the copper from its accompanying plastic resin. 

Wastewater Sludge

Do not pour off the waste sludge you recovered from the previous step, as it still contains some parts of copper.

Instead, put it in an evaporating container and heat it to high temperatures.

This will turn the copper in the solution into copper oxide. 

Finally, smelt it via an appropriate technique to obtain pure copper. 

Apply Basic Etching

This method is similar to the above technique as it primarily involves setting up the etching solution to turn acidic, promoting the release of copper oxide.

Next, smelt the oxide composition to obtain pure copper. 

Hot Air Levelling 

You can also recover tin from the PCB board, as it’s also a useful raw material in circuit board manufacturing.

This method involves heating the board to extremely high temperatures, which yields a tin solder dross

Rack Stripping Process

Digest your PCB (without the components) in nitric acid or hydrogen fluoride to dissolve the copper.

Next, apply an electric winning reactor to remove the copper from the solution. 

What You Can Recycle from Printed Circuit Boards

The table below highlights the components you can recover from a printed circuit board after treatment with an etching or stripping solution. 

Media/ Process Involved in Recovering the MaterialRecovered Material
Etching Solution Copper 
Edge TrimCopper
Rack StrippingCopper
Hot Air Levelling ProcessTin
Plated through-hole processCopper Hydroxide
Solder Stripping Copper
Treatment SludgeCopper Oxide

How to Make PCBs More Recyclable

A surface mount device installing components. 

A surface mount device installing components. 

We should increase PCB recycling attempts as this is critical in ensuring we save our environment from the harmful effects of electronic waste.

While there are limited ways to improve recyclability, if we uphold them, there’s a chance that we could recover more than we’re currently obtaining. 

  • First, we must adopt SMD components technology over through-hole technology (THT), as the former makes it easy to separate the parts from the circuit board. 
  • Also, we must increase recycling attempts, especially given that the growing volumes of electronics are becoming a common spectacle in our landfills. 


PCBs are at the heart of all electronic components, yet most people are yet to understand the essence and ways of recycling them.

Many opt for the easier way of dumping the parts simply in our waste bins, and if they find their way into water sources, they end up as pollutants.

That shouldn’t be the case, as every part of PCBs can be reused with good recycling methods like those we have covered above.