What do we do with all that ewaste piling up in our closets and other dark and forgotten spaces? Luckily growing demand for a solution is once again throwing up creative ideas, such as IoT sensors made out of recyclable materials.

According to a report from the UN, 50 million tonnes of ewaste is produced globally every year. This amounts to 125,000 jumbo jets, which is more than all the commercial aircraft ever built. 

The report says Australia is among the biggest producers of ewaste in the world.

And if current trends continue electronic and electrical waste is expected to keep growing, especially with the Internet of Things turning everyday items such as washing machines, kettles and mattresses into additional sources of ewaste.

With ewaste though it’s not just the scale of the problem that is a concern – it’s also more dangerous than most other forms of waste. It contains high levels of toxins, such as lead and mercury, and these can leak out of disposed items and contaminate water sources and soil.

Much of the world’s ewaste, including Australia’s, is recycled in poorer nations such as India without regulatory oversight. The process used to extract the precious metals and reusable components creates toxic gases that are harmful to human health as well as the environment.

But fortunately, the movement in green electronics research is finding some potential solutions. In one example Simon Fraser University in Canada and has teamed up with Swiss researchers to develop eco-friendly wireless IoT sensors that can be recycled.

The sensors are 3D printable and made using a wood-derived cellulose material instead of the plastics and polymeric materials currently used in electronics. They can be used and disposed of without contaminating the environment. 

SFU mechatronic systems engineering professor Woo Soo Kim is leading the research and said that the sensor can “wirelessly transmit data during their life, and can then be disposed without concern of environmental contamination”.

“This development will help to advance green electronics,” Professor Kim said. 

“For example, the waste from printed circuit boards is a hazardous source of contamination to the environment. If we are able to change the plastics in PCB to cellulose composite materials, recycling of metal components on the board could be collected in a much easier way.”

The 3D printing will also allow more flexibility to add or embed functions onto 3D shapes or textiles, which will create greater functionality.