How can we recycle small electronic devices better?

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Scientists from Tianjin University have produced the first dissolvable smartwatch. While not as sleek as current devices, it has similar performance and capabilities. The watch is resistant to sweat but disintegrates within 40 hours when submerged in water.

A series of photos showing a smart watch dissolving

Source: © 2021 American Chemistry Society

The smartwatch breaks down over 40 hours when submerged in water and leaves behind a few recyclable components 

Electronic waste is difficult and hazardous to recycle so it is often not worth doing for small electronics. To reduce this waste, scientists made a transient nanocomposite circuit board. Transient materials are not designed to last – in this case, the material dissolves in water into environmentally friendly compounds.

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The composite consists of zinc nanoparticles with silver nanowires, which improve the device’s electrical properties. This nanocomposite is screen printed onto a water-soluble polymer called polyvinyl alcohol. The printed circuit boards are enclosed in a soluble 3D-printed case, also made from polyvinyl alcohol. Any components that are not dissolvable, for example the screen and transistors, can be collected and recycled after the rest of the watch has disintegrated.

This dissolvable smartwatch can carry out many of the same functions as current non-dissolvable devices: monitoring heart rate and step count, as well as displaying messages from phones connected via Bluetooth.

Read the full story in Chemistry World.