The UN’s report lists Australia amongst the biggest producers of ewaste in the world. As the Internet of Things grows in reach, everyday items including mattresses and shoes could turn into sources of electronic and electrical waste.
Ewaste is more dangerous than other forms of waste, containing high levels of toxins including lead and mercury. These can leak out and contaminate soil and water sources.
Most of the world’s ewaste is currently recycled in poorer nations where regulatory oversight is lacking. Processes used to extract precious metals from the waste create toxic gases that are harmful to both human health and the environment.
Fortunately, potential solutions are beginning to emerge. One example has seen Simon Fraser University in Canada partner with Swiss researchers to create eco-friendly wireless IoT sensors that are recyclable.
These sensors are 3D printable and manufactured using a wood-derived cellulose material instead of the plastics typically used in electronics. They can be used and disposed of without environmental harm.
The ability to 3D print also allows the flexibility to add or embed functions onto 3D shapes or textiles, creating greater functionality.
Woo Soo Kim, SFU mechatronic systems engineering professor, is leading the research and said that the sensor can “wirelessly transmit data during their life, and can then be disposed without concern of environmental contamination”.
“This development will help to advance green electronics,” Professor Kim said.
“For example, the waste from printed circuit boards is a hazardous source of contamination to the environment. If we are able to change the plastics in PCB to cellulose composite materials, recycling of metal components on the board could be collected in a much easier way.”