CLEVER – Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery

Being CLEVER

As smart phones and tablets become increasingly popular, the issue of what to do with electronic waste is becoming ever more pressing.

The CLEVER team is working on ways in which our current ‘throw-away’ society can move towards a new model – where electronic waste will be reduced. The multi-disciplinary team is looking at how consumer electronics such as mobile phones and tablets can be made to last longer yet still appeal to the consumer,  and how the valuable materials contained within these products can be easily recycled, and so reducing the amount of electronic waste going to landfill.

One of the things the CLEVER team is working on is a new business model, called a Product Service System. This shifts the focus from designing and selling physical products only, to designing and selling a system of products and services that includes both service and ownership, while fulfilling the consumer’s needs.

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 investigating how new materials – based on bio-polymers – are designed and produced, to see how the component parts can 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.

The CLEVER team is also looking at ways in which some of the most valuable metals contained in electronic devices can be recycled. Keeping electronic devices in a “closed loop” means they are less likely to be exported (sometimes illegally) to low and middle income countries. In some of these places, people are risking their lives to recover valuable metals by burning, smelting, or using processes that may release dioxins.

Meet the CLEVER team: