Electronic waste is becoming more of a troubling problem with the global volume of electronic waste expected to grow by 33% in the next four years. According to the UN’s ‘Step initiative’ nearly 50m tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide last year, about 7kg for every person on the planet, as old devices were discarded to sit in landfills.
Even when devices are recycled responsibly, circuit boards in everyday electronics are based on reinforced epoxy glass and solder, which makes it hard for them to be taken apart safely.
However the future for electronics could be looking a lot more ‘green,’ as with help from government funding, three British companies have developed a new type of adhesive that could make circuit boards 90% recyclable and reusable.
Helped out by the government's ‘Technology Strategy Board’, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials have joined forces to devise an adhesive that helps manufacturers take apart electronic circuit boards and reuse their components to make new components. The technology, called ‘ReUse’ (reusable, unzippable, sustainable electronics) means that all you would have to do to recycle a circuit board is soak it in hot water and scrape the components off with a business card.
Chris Hunt, head of the Electronics Interconnection Team at NPL explained to The Guardian. “What happens to end of life electronics is one of the fastest growing waste streams," "Existing electronic circuit assemblies are based on reinforced epoxy glass systems and solder. A circuit board itself is a significant part of a final product, but it's made with a thermoset of glass that isn't easily recyclable."
However, he adds, “This is definitely not a solution for all types of electronic technologies” citing servers and other high-performance electronics as examples of devices, which operate at temperatures too high for these environmentally friendly boards. ReUse could however, be a feasible solution for any electronic device that doesn’t get excessively hot. While it may take some time for the process to make it into mass produced electronics it is definitely a step in the right direction to creating more sustainable practises in electronics.