Electronic Waste Reduction through Devices and Printed Circuit Boards designed for Circularity


The development of Printed Circuit boards (PCBs) has so far followed a traditional linear economy value chain, leading to high volumes of waste production and loss of value at the end-of-life. Consequentially, the electronics industry requires a transition to more sustainable practices. This review article presents an overview of the potential solutions and new opportunities that may arise from the greater use of emerging sustainable materials and resource-efficient manufacturing. A brief contextual summary about how the international management of Waste PCBs (WPCBs) and legalization have evolved over the past 20 years is presented along with a review of the existing materials used in PCBs. The environmental and human health assessment of these materials relative to their usage with PCBs is also explained. This enables the identification of which eco-friendly materials and new technologies will be needed to improve the sustainability of the industry. Following this, a comprehensive analysis of existing WPCB processing is presented. Finally, a detailed review of potential solutions is provided, which has been partitioned by the use of emerging sustainable materials and resource-efficient manufacturing. It is hoped that this discussion will transform existing manufacturing facilities and inform policies, which currently focus on waste management towards waste reduction and zero waste.

Date of Publication: March 14, 2022
Electronic ISSN: 2768-167X
Publisher: IEEE
Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) Group, James Watt School of Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K.
Moupali Chakraborty (Member, IEEE) received the B.Tech. degree in electronics and instrumentation engineering and the M.Tech. degree in instrumentation engineering in 2010 and 2015, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering (specialization in instrumentation system) from IIT Kharagpur, Kharagpur, India, in 2020.
Before joining the master’s degree, she served as a System Engineer with Tata Consultancy Services for two and a half years. Since April 2021, she has been working as a Postdoctoral Researcher with the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technology (BEST) Group, Department of Electronics and Nanoscale Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K. Her research interest includes the design of interfacing circuits, flexible and printed electronics, development of instrumentation systems, and device characterization.
Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) Group, James Watt School of Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K.
Jeff Kettle received the Ph.D. degree in nano photonics and electronics from Cardiff University, Cardiff, U.K., and Swansea University, Swansea, U.K., where he worked on III–V light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
He then worked in a variety of industrial and academic settings, before being made a Lecturer with Bangor University, Bangor, U.K., in 2012. He has been a Senior Lecturer with the James Watt School of Engineering, Glasgow, since 2020. He has ten years of experience working in the manufacturing of large-area electronic devices and solar cells based upon silicon, organic, and metal oxide materials and has published more than 70 articles.
Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) Group, James Watt School of Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K.
Ravinder Dahiya (Fellow, IEEE) is a Professor of electronics and nanoengineering with the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, U.K. He is the Leader of Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) Research Group. His group conducts fundamental and applied research in flexible and printable electronics, tactile sensing, electronic skin, robotics, and wearable systems. He has authored or coauthored more than 400 publications, books, and submitted/granted patents and disclosures. He has led several international projects.
Prof. Dahiya holds the prestigious EPSRC Fellowship and received in past the Marie Curie and Japanese Monbusho Fellowships. He has received several awards, including the 2016 Microelectronic Engineering Young Investigator Award (Elsevier), the 2016 Technical Achievement Award from the IEEE Sensors Council, and the 11 Best Paper Awards as author/coauthor in international conferences and journals. He was the Technical Program Co-Chair of IEEE Sensors 2017 and IEEE Sensors 2018 and has been the General Chair of several conferences, including IEEE FLEPS (2019, 2020, and 2021), which he founded in 2019. He is the President (2022–2023) of the IEEE Sensors Council. He is the Founding-Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Journal on Flexible Electronics (J-FLEX) and has served on the editorial boards of Scientific Reports, IEEE Sensors Journal (2012–2020), and IEEE Transactions on Robotics (2012–2017).

Fig. 1. Circular electronics as a way forward to manage WPCB and eventually leading to zero waste

Fig. 2. (a) Global WEEE generated by year in Mt, (b) Application
owned per capita versus purchasing power parity, (c) E-waste and
e-waste/inhabitant vs. GDP per capita, reproduced with
permission from [41].

Fig. 3. Academic progress in tackling WEEE using a keyword
search from dimension app [42].

Fig. 4. Amount of waste PCBs from WEEE in the year 2021.

Fig. 5. Evolution of IC packaging and future directions

Fig. 6: (a) Relative abundance of materials in mobile phone (ppm),
(b) Global abundance of materials used in smartphone within the
earth crust or ocean (ppm), (c) Cost (€/kg) of materials used in
mobile phone.

Fig. 7: Impact score of various PCB materials in terms of (a)
Ecotoxicity, and (b) Human Toxicity (grey means no information, or
no impact)

Fig. 8. Comparison of the CEENE analysis for the recycling and landfill scenario, reproduced with permission from [51]

Fig. 9: General scheme for WPCB recycling.

Fig. 10. Examples of biodegradable electronics

Fig. 11. Biodegradable energy harvesting devices.

Fig. 12. Device and parts level sustainability of PCB

Fig. 13. Example of (a)-(b) three-stage neural network algorithm
based PCB sorting for efficient recycling, reproduced.

Fig. 14: Key design guidelines for recycling and reuse of PCBs.

Fig. 15: Design guidelines of future degradable PCBs.

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