News from the world: Innovation in recycling electronics

20 May 2014

The efficient recycling of electronics is an issue that experts have long struggled with, however a circuit board has now been created that is 90% recyclable and reusable. The key ingredient is …. hot water.

At present a paltry 2% of electronic circuit board components can be reused, resulting in large quantities of heavy metals going to landfill. In fact it’s been estimated that 70% of heavy metals found in landfills (including mercury and cadmium) come from electronic equipment. These heavy metals can leak from landfills into our water supply, causing environmental and health issues. The process of mining the precious metals we put in our electronics is also taxing on the environment.

Fortunately, a solution now exists in the form of ‘unzippable’ electronics. Three British companies – the National Physical Laboratory, In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials – have created a circuit board whose components can easily be separated by soaking in hot water. They have devised an adhesive that helps manufacturers take apart electronic circuit boards and reuse their components.

Instead of trying to find better recycling practices, the ReUSE project (Reusable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) is focused on making ‘unzippable electronics’ which have reuse built into their structure, to allow individual parts to be repurposed at the end of the electronics’ life cycle.

At present circuit boards are difficult to recycle because they are hard to separate into parts and are not made of easily-recycled materials. The current method of recycling electronics is to smelt them, and extract the precious metals, which recycles only about half the weight of the product. New ‘unzippable’ electronics will be far more effective in recycling and reusing electronics.

We love this concept of the circular economy in action. If you’re interested in our new work stream on Accelerating the Circular Economy in New Zealand, find out more here.

Several SBN members currently offer an e-waste recycling service.

RCN: provides an everyday e-waste solution through a nationwide network of permanent sites where electronic waste can be dropped off for recycling on a user pays basis. These products are shipped to RCN e-Cycle’s three recycling plants in AucklandWellington and Christchurch for dismantling and processing of materials.

Abilities: together with its strategic partners, Abilities offers secure e-waste disposal and disassembly of electronic equipment, computer monitors and hard drives.

E-GREEN – specialises in providing e-waste solutions so that old and obsolete electronic items are safely recycled or disposed of.