Print, recycle, repeat: Scientists demonstrate a biodegradable printed circuit

Read the full story from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

According to the United Nations, less than a quarter of all U.S. electronic waste gets recycled. In 2021 alone, global e-waste surged at 57.5 million tons, and only 17.4% of that was recycled. 

Some experts predict that our e-waste problem will only get worse over time, because most electronics on the market today are designed for portability, not recyclability. Tablets and readers, for example, are assembled by gluing circuits, chips, and hard drives to thin layers of plastic, which must be melted to extract precious metals like copper and gold. Burning plastic releases toxic gases into the atmosphere, and electronics wasting away in landfill often contain harmful materials like mercury, lead, and beryllium.

But now, a team of researchers from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have developed a potential solution: a fully recyclable and biodegradable printed circuit. The researchers, who reported the new device in the journal Advanced Materials, say that the advance could divert wearable devices and other flexible electronics from landfill, and mitigate the health and environmental hazards posed by heavy metal waste.  

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