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Scientists make technological breakthrough that could prevent tons of hazardous e-waste: 'We have created a new formulation'

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

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

Photo Credit: University of Washington

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.

Not only could this massively reduce the amount of electronic waste choking our planet, but the new boards perform just as well as conventional ones. They're compatible with standard circuit manufacturing, too, meaning the costs to produce them should be similar.

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

By keeping circuit boards in use and out of landfills and incinerators, this innovation can help cut the dirty pollution that threatens people's health. It's another step toward a circular economy by reusing raw materials instead of extracting new ones.

While the researchers are still optimizing the process, it's an exciting glimpse into a future where electronics will live many lives before retiring. That's the kind of innovative thinking our planet needs.

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