A major problem facing the world today is its willingness to ignore the shortcomings of tech advancements, writes Linda Liu. What if, instead, we tried to do better?
The world’s approach to messy problems - radioactive waste from nuclear power plants or overflowing plastic landfills requiring up to 1000 years to decompose – has not always been a constructive one: rather, the tendency is always to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. A similar attitude is commonly adopted towards damaged PCBs and other electronic components.
These technological problems call for a 'what if’ approach towards how we dispose of waste materials; an approach acknowledging that, in fact, a large percentage of technological waste materials can be reused. Recycling offers a promising solution for the electronic and PCB industries. This article digs deeper into this waste management strategy and how electronic manufacturers can leverage design for recycling to champion and boost its adoption.
Design for electronics recycling
Design for electronic recycling basically involves using practical steps and ideas during the electronic designing process, aimed at reusing some or all of the end products after the end of their lifespan.
Currently, most electronic gadgets are discarded because of some malfunction too expensive to fix, or simply because a newer device has been launched. And, while electronics can get damaged, some of the PCB materials, which are found in almost every piece of electronics, are reusable.
To extract these materials for use in other PCBs or other electronics, they must be disassembled professionally, as shown below.
Discarded mobile phones are one of the significant contributors to electronic waste in the world. According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, 53.6 Mt of electronic waste was produced globally in 2019. The report further projects electronic waste containing a PCB will hit 74 Mt before 2030. This makes electronic waste the fasted-growing domestic pollutant, caused primarily by higher demand for electronics, short lifespans, and limited repair options.
The need for a green PCB development process
Before discussing the reasons for embracing a green PCB development process, let's define a green circuit board development process. Generally, the term green refers to environmental consciousness. Therefore, a green circuit board development process relates to the actions taken during circuit board development to minimize any adverse environmental effects or the measures taken during the production and disposal of PCBs.
The negative environmental impact of electronic waste is evident. The world needs electronic recycling now, more than ever. Recycling efforts will be more effective if embraced by the entire production chain. The best approach to reducing e-waste reduction will start with integrating design for electronics recycling and production for electronics recycling. Regulators across the world also need to be keen and strict in implementing these policies.
Why implement a green PCB development process?
- Recover precious minerals
PCBs are coated with precious minerals like gold, nickel, copper, etc. A green circuit board development process will ensure that these rare minerals are recovered for later use.
- Regulatory compliance
Most US states control electronic recycling, but there are no federal rules governing PCB production and recovering precious metals from obsolete PCBs. For instance, Apple recovered 2204 Ibs of gold in 2015.
- Cost-effective production
By reusing materials and miniaturized boards, the production costs will drop and productivity increase.
- Minimise hazardous materials
Green PCB development will also benefit employees, especially those in less developed countries, by reducing their exposure to hazardous chemicals Most electronics waste from developed countries finds its way to third-world countries in Africa and Asia, where it is dumped in landfills or burned – but not before first being stripped of any valuable components and in the process, causing exposure to the hazardous substances used in PCBs.
Implementing an effective eco-friendly circuit board development process requires designers to collaborate with manufacturers committed to green production.