Reducing e-waste with biodegradable polymer

There’s no denying it: most of us depend on electronics in every aspect of our lives. Even if you don’t own that many gadgets, electronics fill the hospitals, police departments, schools, and farms that we count on for valuable services. When these vital electronics die or break, they become part of  the 50 million tons of e-waste generated every year.

Besides dismal recycling rates, a big problem with e-waste is the sheer amount of plastic it brings to the landfill. Plastics made from toxic chemicals that take thousands of years to degrade, if ever. An Italian company called Bio-on claims to have developed a biodegradable polymer that could replace this plastic, while still providing a substrate for electrical circuits.

Image via lennartt

Bio-on specializes in the production of Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a linear polyester naturally occurring as a result of bacterial fermentation of sugar. Unlike other bioplastics, the company’s MINERV-PHA is a high-performance PHA biopolymer that’s endowed with optimal thermal properties. When combined with suitable nanofillers, the polymer can act as an electricity conductor, the company says. And it won’t break down when exposed to the high-heat of daily electronics operation.

When it comes time for electronics made with MINERV-PHA to be recycled or landfilled, the bioplastic only needs to be exposed to simple water and soil to begin degrading.

“This type of plastic reduces the environmental impact of the device,” according to Paola Fabbri, a researcher at the Enzo Ferrari Department of Engineering of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, ”making recovery easier and cheaper. As much of the plastics currently used in electronics can now be replaced by biopolymers such as bio-on’s, many businesses can already benefit by reducing the impact of the life cycle analysis (LCA) of electronic devices, as recommended by the European legislation.”

* Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling