A recent report by Gartner Inc. has highlighted the fact that many wearable devices are short lived. Whilst being marketed as the future landscape of electronics and embedded intelligence the popularity of current devices seems to dwindle quickly. The report identified that approximately 30% of smart watches and 30% of fitness trackers are abandoned shortly after purchasing. Reasons given by those who no longer used their devices included ‘not finding them useful’, ‘novelty of the device wears off’ or the objects break.
What is not often considered when these items come to the end of their life is how they are recycled. Smart watches as well as other wearable devices contain complex electronics that must be recycled under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. The devices also contain batteries, which too must be recycled under the Batteries and Accumulators Directive. However, because these devices are so small, many do not make it into the recycling network, but are disposed of with household waste. In Europe there is currently a large deficit in these items being recycled compared to what has been placed on the market. Some of these losses may be due to illegal waste handling, but is it believed that a significant proportion of small WEEE is being thrown away.
The issue for batteries within these products is that there is a possibility of them being reused (such as what the PESURB project is trying to achieve). Whether the wearable device is physically broken (strap or packaging) or whether the electronics have failed, it is likely that after such a short duration the batteries have not reached their true end of life.
The design of wearable electronics has a long way to go, and therefore more effort should be provided to design these goods for reuse and recycling. Especially, if these complex electronic devices are to become fashion accessories and discarded with trends, a viable recovery route for materials and resources must be developed.