The World Bank

Electroplating Industry - Pollution Prevention Guidelines


Courtesy of The World Bank


Pollution Prevention Guidelines to provide technical advice and guidance to staff and consultants involved in pollution-related projects. The guidelines represent state-of-the-art thinking on how to reduce pollution emissions from the production process. In many cases, the guidelines provide numerical targets for reducing pollution, as well as maximum emissions levels that are normally achievable through a combination of cleaner production and end-of-pipe treatment. The guidelines are designed to protect human health; reduce mass loadings to the environment; draw on commercially proven technologies; be cost-effective; follow current regulatory trends; and promote good industrial practices, which offer greater productivity and increased energy efficiency.

Table of Contents

  • Industry Description and Practices
  • Waste Characteristics
  • Pollution Prevention and Control
  • Target Pollution Loads
  • Treatment Technologies
  • Emissions Guidelines
  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Key Issues
  • Sources

Industry Description and Practices

Electroplating involves the deposition of a thin protective layer (usually metallic) onto a prepared metal surface, using electrochemical processes. The process involves pretreatment (cleaning, degreasing, and other preparation steps), plating, rinsing, passivating, and drying.

The cleaning and pretreatment stages involve a variety of solvents (often chlorinated hydrocarbons, whose use is discouraged) and surfacestripping agents, including caustic soda and a range of strong acids, depending on the metal surface to be plated. The use of halogenated hydrocarbons for degreasing is not necessary, as water-based systems are available. In the plating process, the object to be plated is usually used as the cathode in an electrolytic bath. Plating solutions are acid or alkaline and may contain complexing agents such as cyanides.

Waste Characteristics

Any or all of the substances used in electroplating (such as acidic solutions, toxic metals, solvents, and cyanides) can be found in the wastewater, either via rinsing of the product or from spillage and dumping of process baths. The solvents and vapors from hot plating baths result in elevated levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and, in some cases, volatile metal compounds, which may contain chromates. Approximately 30% of the solvents and degreasing agents used can be released as VOCs when baths are not regenerated.

The mixing of cyanide and acidic wastewaters can generate lethal hydrogen cyanide gas, and this must be avoided. The overall wastewater stream is typically extremely variable (1 liter to 500 liters per square meter of surface plated) but is usually high in heavy metals, including cadmium, chrome, lead, copper, zinc, and nickel, and in cyanides, fluorides, and oil and grease, all of which are process dependent. Air emissions may contain toxic organics such as trichloroethylene and trichloroethane.

Cleaning or changing of process tanks and treatment of wastewaters can generate substantial quantities of wet sludges containing high levels of toxic organics or metals. Pollution Prevention and Control
Plating involves different combinations of a wide variety of processes, and there are many opportunities to improve on traditional practices in the industry. The improvements listed below should be implemented where possible.

Changes in Process

  • Replace cadmium with high-quality, corrosion-resistant zinc plating. Use cyanide-free systems for zinc plating where appropriate. Where cadmium plating is necessary, use bright chloride, high-alkaline baths, or other alternatives. Note, however, that use of some alternatives to cyanides may lead to the release of heavy metals and cause problems in wastewater treatment.
  • Use trivalent chrome instead of hexavalent chrome; acceptance of the change in finish needs to be promoted.
  • Give preference to water-based surface-cleaning agents, where feasible, instead of organic cleaning agents, some of which are considered toxic.
  • Regenerate acids and other process ingredients whenever feasible.

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