The symposium was opened by ECG chair, Dr Rowena Fletcher-Wood, who introduced the first speaker, Professor Ian Williams (University of Southampton) and his presentation entitled Enabling recovery and recycling of materials used in electronics: The Trace Project (pp. 24-27). Professor Williams began his talk with the background to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) issue. WEEE or e-waste is defined as anything with a plug, electric cord or battery. Devices fitting this description are usually made up of a complex mixture of materials and can cause environmental and health problems if not handled correctly. To highlight the scale of the issue, a 2010 Belgian study found that the average home contains ~263 kg of electronic equipment per inhabitant. Professor Williams highlighted the difference in
technological evolution between radios and mobile phones, with the rapid increase in complexity of the latter leading to increases in e-waste. In 2019, 53.6 Mt of e-waste were generated globally, of which 82.6% had no documentation as to what happened to it.
Flexible electronics being developed by PragmatIC have a lower energy demand for manufacture, have fewer layers than silicon-based technology and are also more responsive with fewer errors. Flexible electronics fabrication can be smaller and lower cost than traditional facilities, allowing
manufacture to be more widely distributed to meet local demand, reducing transport requirements. Potential uses for flexible electronics could also help with other waste problems. For example, smart labels on plastic bottles could make deposit return schemes digital, and improve on the current rate of plastic recycling which is only 9% of all the plastic ever produced globally. The tracking of products through the waste stream, such as tyres, may reduce the levels of fly-tipping. Electronics in packaging to assess the safety of food could reduce the current global food waste of > 30% by reducing reliance on use-by dates. Questions from the audience investigated the potential effect of smart labels on recycling and the increase in WEEE from the addition of the electronics. Dr Ramsdale indicated that PragmatIC are taking these issues into account and expect that smart labels could be reused too. Their circular economy team are dedicated to ensuring that there is value in adding flexible electronics to products.
The meeting concluded with the presentation of the 2022 Distinguished Guest Lecture medal to Mr Cottle.
The delegates left having enjoyed one of their first in person meetings in over two years, and engaging in fascinating discussion on issues related to electronics and electronic waste.