The priorities, however, are different in recycling; there is no due date, and it often doesn't matter how fast the final "products," raw materials such as copper and steel, are extracted from obsolete machines, Stuart said.
Far more important to the electronics recycler is keeping plenty of space continually available in an area of the plant where products are received and briefly stored immediately before they are recycled.
Electronics recyclers earn a portion of their income just for receiving shipments. Because the arrival of shipments is unpredictable, it is important to always have enough storage space available. If the receiving area - or staging space - is full, incoming shipments have to be turned away or stored in trailers, causing a loss of income or incurring trailer rental fees, Stuart said.
"The recycler wants to empty the staging space as fast as possible to receive more materials," she said. "That's important because they may receive three truckloads this week, one the following week, two the next week and so on."
Recyclers currently try to keep their staging areas as open as possible by first moving the products that can most quickly be taken apart. But that is not the best approach, according to the research findings.
In the new method, the largest products that can be quickly disassembled are the first to be moved out of the staging space. Stuart compared the size-based method with two other strategies, one in which the most valuable products are moved first out of the staging area and another in which the products that can be most quickly disassembled are moved first.
She found that only the size-based method improved the system significantly.