Design School


Electronics longevity

Group: Sustainable Design

Project: Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER)

Solving the growing problem of electronic waste

3 years, 2013 - 2016


Dr Debra Lilley

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As smart phones and tablets become increasingly popular, the issue of what to do with electronic waste is becoming ever more pressing.  The CLEVER project is working on ways in which our current ‘throw-away’ society can move towards a new model – where electronic waste will be reduced.

In this new model, electronics could be made to last longer yet still appeal to the consumer, whilst valuable materials contained within these products could be easily extracted and recycled, so reducing the amount of electronic waste going to landfill.

Keeping electronic devices in a “closed loop” means they are less likely to be exported (sometimes illegally) to low and middle income countries where often people are risking their lives to recover valuable metals by burning, smelting, or using processes that may release dioxins.

To make us more inclined to keep our devices, the team are working on the development of new materials which ‘age gracefully’ in much the same way as leather improves with age. The aim is to encourage a greater emotional attachment to the products – so we will want to keep them for longer.

The project team is also investigating how new materials – based on bio-polymers – can be designed and produced, to enable component parts to be quickly and efficiently accessed for recycling and metals recovery. The most important characteristic of these materials is that they are stable and robust while in use, but can be triggered to decompose when the device is to be taken apart for recycling. 

Find out more by contacting Dr Debra Lilley