In 2011 41.5 million tons of e-waste was disposed of. This number is expected to grow to 93.5 million tons in 2016. Currently, a large majority of electronic waste is shipped overseas to places like Africa and China where it ends up in landfills. In the US alone, 4.6 million tons of electronic waste ends up in landfills annually. Electronic waste is detrimental to the environment due to the high levels of heavy metals and toxic chemicals found in certain devices. When e-waste ends up in landfills these toxins end up leaching into the surrounding area.
With millions of tons of e-waste piling up, what does the future look like? Some scientists are working toward making our everyday technology more eco-friendly.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison have developed a microchip out of biodegradable wood. The cellulose nanofibril, or CNF chips are highly processed, but they maintain some of the same characteristics of wood. When in humid environments, they will swell with moisture. To combat the swelling, the chips are coated in a special epoxy that is also biodegradable. The chips aren’t made completely of wood; there are still some metal components on the device, but significantly less than a standard chip. Once the device has fulfilled its purpose, it can be degraded by a fungus. Once broken down, the chip is safe to use as a fertilizer for other plants.
Another material, water soluble silicon, is also being used to create microchips. The silicon in the chips can dissolve in time spans ranging from 1 week to 3 years. The silicon can be dissolved by the fluids found inside our bodies, making them ideal for medical implants. Further development may lead to an expanded use in everyday devices.
There are also advances being made with batteries. To create the batteries, wood pulp is processed into a porous, foam-like material. This material is then coated in a conductive ink. Because they’re elastic, they can be used in devices with odd shapes, even clothing. The batteries are very powerful; they’re strong enough to power an electric vehicle.
These advancements are encouraging and hopefully indicate that more eco-friendly and biodegradable technologies will be developed and become more commonplace.
Written by: Mallory Morales