As our smartphones and computers continue to become obsolete and get discarded, the environmental problem of electronic waste gets worse. Needless to say, the greater the number of electronic components that can be reclaimed and reused, the better. That’s why scientists from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have developed a printed circuit board that falls apart when immersed in hot water.

The board itself is composed of “unzippable polymeric layers.” While these layers are able to withstand prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing, they separate from one another when exposed to hot water. The conventional components mounted on the boards – such as resistors, capacitors and integrated circuits – can then simply be scraped off, fully intact and ready for reuse. Additionally, the material can be used not only for flat, rigid boards, but also for flexible electronics and three-dimensional structures.

In lab tests, it was found that 90 percent of the original circuit board components could be salvaged. By contrast, according to NPL, just two percent of the material in existing circuit boards can be re-used.

The technology was developed as part of Britain’s ReUSE (Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) project, in partnership with tech firms In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials. It’s reminiscent of Stanford University’s Bloom laptop concept, which is designed to be easily disassembled for recycling.

A demonstration of the NPL material can be seen in the video below.