The Latest Medical Innovation: Recycled TVs

Published on July 16th, 2009 | by

E-WasteResearchers at the University of York have recently come up with a method of recycling that seems like it fell from the pages of a science fiction novel. They want to turn discarded television screens into components for biomedicine.

The scientists have been studying methods of reducing the environmental impact of e-waste streams as part of an ongoing project to find ways of limiting the impact of e-waste, and particularly liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. (The project is sponsored by Great Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry — of which several members of the University’s York Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence are a part.)

Used as a coating for LCDs, polyvinyl-alcohol (PVA) merely had to be microwaved in water and then washed in ethanol after it was recovered from the screens to produce “expanded PVA.” This new chemical does not provoke an immune response and can therefore be used in pills and dressings designed to deliver medication to specific portions of the human body as well as in artificial tissue scaffolds, designed to help parts of the body regenerate.

As Professor James Clark, the Centre’s director and a member of the research team, stated, “With 2.5 billion liquid crystal displays already reaching the end of their life, and LCD televisions proving hugely popular with consumers, that is a huge amount of potential waste to manage.” And then, of course, there are the LCDs on smaller electronics such as cell phones, calculators, and computer monitors to contend with.

Clark added that as the components of discarded LCDs are rarely reused in the manufacture of the next generation, “it is important that we find ways of recycling as many elements of LCDs as possible so we don’t simply have to resort to burying and burning them.”

Because e-waste is currently the fastest growing waste stream in Europe, many European countries, including the U.K., are now enforcing the recycling of these materials. Over a third of U.S. states have passed similar restrictions into law, so landfills are no longer even legal options in many places for electronic disposal.

While most e-waste concerns center around the more hazardous components of electronics such as heavy metals or old, carcinogenic plastics and while PVA is not a major environmental hazard itself, wasting it still consumes a non-renewable, highly valuable resource. Clark and his fellow scientists intend that this will be but one new set of applications for this byproduct of LCD recycling. They hope that their research will produce many more methods by which we can “avoid turning a useful material into a burden on the environment.”

Photo Credit: ▐ ÇP▐ at flickr


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