Holiday shopping adds to e-waste, but help is on the way

November 15, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The mad rush of consumer electronics sales over the holidays will add to the millions of products that become obsolete annually, but researchers are working on new ways to recycle e-waste and develop sustainable technologies.

"Electronics generally have a short life cycle," said Carol Handwerker, Purdue University's Reinhardt Schuhmann Jr. Professor of Materials Engineering. "One reason is that people want to buy the newest products. But is there a way that we can design electronics and use them to enrich our lives without depleting the planet?"

The effort, funded by the National Science Foundation, aims to replace conventional electronics with more sustainable technologies and train a workforce of specialists to make the transition possible. Handwerker is leading the project with four co-principal investigators including Mahesh Hosur, a professor of materials science and engineering at Tuskegee University.

Another effort focuses on creating tools to help industry efficiently recycle flat screen television sets and computer monitors that contain liquid crystal displays, or LCDs. Over the next few years hundreds of millions of LCDs will be retired as consumers replace them with new models. LCDs manufactured before 2009 use cold cathode fluorescent lamps, or CCFLs, to backlight the display. The CCFL displays contain mercury, making them hazardous to dispose of or incinerate, said Fu Zhao, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering.

Purdue researchers are working to help industry recycle the displays through a new project funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's People, Prosperity and the Planet - or P3 - program. The project focuses on creating equipment and tools specifically designed to disassemble LCDs at a reasonable cost to recover high-value components and reduce environmental hazards. Zhao is leading the EPA project.

Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709,

Sources: Carol Handwerker, 765-494-0147,

Fu Zhao, 765-494-6637,

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