While we might be proud of the way electronic technology has evolved, the condition is just the opposite for environmentalists. The electronics industry is one of the biggest producers of electronic waste with 100 million electronic units being discarded annually in the UK alone. Around 85 percent of this waste is printed circuit board scrap and with little opportunity for recycling. To solve the problems researchers at the National Physical Laboratory along with In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials have developed an innovative printed circuit board where the electronic components can easily be separated by just immersing it in hot water.
Christened the ReUSE (Reusable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics), the project aims to increase the recyclability of electronic assemblies to prevent healthy electronic components from reaching the landfill. For making electronic recycling as easy as making a cup of coffee, the team developed and tested a series of unzippable polymeric layers which can withstand prolonged thermal cycling and heat stressing, but can also be separated from the PCB at the end of their life by simply adding hot water.
The breakthrough in material technology allows 90 percent of the original structure to be easily reused, a figure which stands at just two percent currently.