Degradable Electronics: a Thing of the Very Near Future?

woman uses a smartphone
The computers, tablets and smartphones we rely on every day were never meant to be used forever. That’s one reason why the average American replaces his or her cellphone about once every two years.

But once we dispose of them, every electronic device we replace contributes to the countless tons of waste thrown into landfills each year. Only a small portion of the devices are able to be salvaged and recycled.

And when experts predict a future controlled by the “Internet of Things,” in which virtually every item people own has some kind of sensor or electronic device on it, the pattern of clogging up landfills with old electronics isn’t expected to get any better.

That’s why, according to a Nov. 20 NanoWerk article, electronics manufacturers are working toward eventually introducing degradable electronics that will virtually dissolve back into the ecosystem once disposed of.

In New Orleans, researchers have developed electronic circuits that, when implanted into a rat’s surgical wound, help speed along the animal’s post-op healing process. The electronics become safely absorbed into the rat’s body within a few weeks, eliminating the need to surgically remove the device, according to NanoWerk.

Researchers at Norway’s SINTEF have also begun to manufacture degradable electronics. Electronics parts containing magnesium circuits are water-soluble, and completely dissolve in just a few hours.

What does this mean for those of us who rely on electronics for virtually every aspect of our lives?

The idea of degradable electronics poses interesting questions, but there’s no doubt it would help reduce the amount of waste humans generate. Degradable electronics would also greatly benefit surgical patients — as the devices implanted into their bodies to monitor their recoveries would no longer have to be surgically removed later.

However, NanoWerk reports that these electronics won’t be without opposition in the coming years.

“Electronics companies which manufacture circuits are more interested in selling their products than in investing in research that results in their products disappearing. And companies which rely on recycling for their revenues may regard these new ideas as a threat to their existence,” the article explains.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of degradable electronics? Share with us in the comments below.

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