In 2014, consumers around the world discarded about 42 million metric tons of e-waste, according to a report by the United Nations University. This poses an environmental and human threat because electronic products are made up of many components, some of which are toxic or non-degradable. To help address the issue, Xinlong Wang and colleagues sought to develop a degradable material that could be used for electronic substrates or insulators.
The researchers started with polylactic acid, or PLA, which is a bioplastic that can be derived from corn starch or other natural sources and is already used in the packaging, electronics and automotive industries. PLA by itself, however, is brittle and flammable, and doesn't have the right electrical properties to be a good electronic substrate or insulator. But the researchers found that blending metal-organic framework nanoparticles with PLA resulted in a transparent film with the mechanical, electrical and flame retardant properties that make the material a promising candidate for use in electronics.