Scientists make technological breakthrough that could prevent tons of hazardous e-waste

July 2, 2024

Leslie Sattler,, June 26, 2024

It’s a win-win for both our wallets and our environment.

Imagine a world where your old phone or laptop doesn’t end up clogging a landfill but instead gets a new lease on life.

That’s the promise of an exciting breakthrough from researchers at the University of Washington, according to Anthropocene Magazine.

The heart of an electronic device is the circuit board. These boards are made of tough plastics that make them difficult to recycle. As a result, hundreds of thousands of tons of circuit boards get dumped in landfills each year as gadgets become obsolete. Burning this e-waste to recover valuable metals creates toxic pollution that harms our air, soil, and water.

The UW researchers solved this problem by replacing the typical epoxy plastic in circuit boards with a special material called a vitrimer. When heated, vitrimers can flow and form new bonds, allowing them to be recycled repeatedly without losing integrity.

To recycle the boards, they simply soak them in a solvent and heat them up. The vitrimer softens, allowing the raw materials to be separated and reused in new circuit boards. In tests, the team recovered an impressive 98% of the vitrimer and 91% of the solvent.

“We have created a new formulation for circuit boards that has performance on par with the industry standard material and can be recycled repeatedly without degradation,” said Vikram Iyer, a professor of computer science and engineering who co-authored the study, in the journal Nature Sustainability.

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