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Electronic waste has been a problem for the passing years. We are constantly hopping from one device to the next; always searching for the latest and greatest upgrade. Speaking of which, I’m already hearing rumours about an iPhone 6 but that’s a story for another article.
Once electronics have been discarded, they are sent to landfill where they take years to breakdown. This makes it one of the fastest growing waste streams. Even devices that are recycled responsibly are difficult to deal with. The circuit boards in our phones and computers are based on reinforced epoxy glass systems and solder, which is a pain to dismantle safely.
However, three British companies have found a way to regulate electronic waste. They have devised an ink and adhesive system that allows manufactures to take apart electronic circuit boards and reuse their components. It is capable of making circuit boards 90% recyclable and all you need to do is apply water. This innovation is named ReUse, which is short for reusable, unzippable, sustainable electronics. It is based on a recyclable thermoplastic substrate. When the component is no longer needed, the board is submerged in boiling water and after a few minutes, all the components comes apart and they can be harvested for recycling.
Water has never been the best friend of any electronic device but rest assured, your device will not collapse into a pile of chips when it comes into contact with water! Only high temperature water is capable of disassociating materials. The boiling water the adhesive softens so significantly that all the components on the board can be easily scraped off.
Chris Hut, head of the Electronic Interconnection Team at NPL, states that the this will take some time before it becomes “scalable for use by the likes of Apple or larger electronic manufacturers”. Also, he adds that this is not a solution for all types of electronics. High-end servers and performance electronics operate at temperatures too high for ReUse and it may not be able to hold the parts together.
So, will we be seeing ReUsed in our future phones and computers? Hut says that manufacturers are likely to “stick with that they know” until they have received legislative pressure to change the their mindset and embrace this new technology.