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Dissolving E-waste

Published September 28. 2012 05:03PM

Earlier this week, Carbon County residents had the opportunity to dispose of their old electronics by taking them to the Lehighton Borough Public Works building for recycling.

The event, in cooperation with Advanced Green Solutions Inc., was held at no charge to the county or to residents. It was a quick and easy way to get rid of that old television, VCR, radio, stereo equipment, computer monitor, keyboard, telephone, typewriter, hard drive, lap top or copier that's been taking up space in the house.

This was an efficient way that people could reduce their household clutter while helping the environment. But disposing of one tiny electronic product may soon get even easier.

Some breakthrough medical research in a Science journal on Thursday showed how tiny electronics inside the body can be recycled naturally. Implants are already being used to provide electrical stimulation and dispense drugs inside the body. They generate heat and thus fight off infection by killing germs following surgery.

Now the tiny computer chip-sized devices being tested can dissolve inside the body after performing their jobs. The idea of using biodegradable electronics that dissolve - therefore avoiding the need for surgical removal - is indeed a game-changer. Christopher Bettinger, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher, called it "a remarkable achievement."

John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of the Science article, said after doing their jobs for a week, the disposable devices tested in mice, which were sealed in a silk cocoon, dissolved to the point where the body fluids could begin breaking them down.

Researchers say the silk coating used can remain intact for varying amounts of time - from seconds to weeks to years. The tiny electronic gadgets used in the test mice disappeared within three weeks. Rogers said that some day, a device might be programmed to provide an electric current to also help in bone healing.

This new concept is a win-win venture for both the medical community as well as the environmentalists. Not only can the device facilitate healing but after serving its purpose inside the body, the components decompose, thus cutting down on electronic waste or E-waste.

What environmentally-conscious human being doesn't want to see the large surplus of E-waste being produced in today's society simply dissolve and disappear?

By Jim Zbick

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