Circular economy within the electronic sector

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

The world has embraced electronic revolution where many people use different types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). EEE is essential to modern life, easing communications and promising higher standards of living for people. EEE could be a phone, bulb, light fittings, computers, screens, smartphones, tablets and TVs, household appliances, office equipment as well as heating and cooling equipment.

Just to appreciate the magnitude of the EEE challenge, how many electronic items are you hoarding at home? What length of unused cables do you have at home? You can now multiply that with your peers within your local population. The figures could be really amazing.

The electronic sector has grown through an era dominated by a linear model characterized by continuous consumption, throwaway culture, short lived products, and items that are are impossible and expensive to repair. Circular economy for the electronic sector hence faces diverse challenges such as

  1. Low durability of the electronic devises
  2. Production of a lot of wastes
  3. Impossible and expensive to repair
  4. Environmental damage during extraction of rare materials
  5. High GHG emissions throughout product lifetimes
  6. Toxic substances in e-waste harmful to humans and wildlife
  7. Lack of incentives to use quality materials and recover their products at the end of life.

The challenges above have caused dumping of EEE in diverse places fashionable which is a health hazard to humans and wildlife ecosystems. Many small dumpsites sprout every day in very unexpected places which interfere with ambience of a place.

There is no doubt that most people have a big appetite for innovations and can change their EEE gadgets regularly. However, there are some conservative people who may want to hold onto old products for a long time due to durability or serving multiple uses. Some EEE is inevitably stored in drawers and cupboards, or passed on to friends and family.

Circular economy practices for the electronic sector enables one to try out new innovations at cheaper initial cost. Metals like gold, copper and nickel are plenty in products such as mobile phones, laptops and TVs and this can be worth millions.

Reuse of materials contained in e-waste reduces the need to extract more, reduce carbon emissions, environmental damage and human rights problems often associated with mining. A lot of evidence exist whereby different parts of electronic gadgets have been reused to make other items and hence prolonging their use.

Circular economy practices for the electronic sector includes

  1. Selling access to a product or the service rather than the actual product. This includes leasing of electronic gadgets instead of owning it and this way one gets access to products without owning it.
  2. Selling equipment subscriptions instead of emphasis on purchases
  3. Designing products that are modular which can easily be disassembled into constituent parts and hence easy to replace any piece in order to prolong usage.
  4. Extracting increased value from embedded materials in e-waste.
  5. Recovering and reusing materials.
  6. Recycling to recapture components for use in new products
  7. Persuading and incentivizing businesses and consumers to return products to manufacturers.
  8. Setting ambitious targets for reuse and recycling
  9. Promote use of recycled and renewable materials
  10. Better collection of e-waste, including buy-back or return systems for WEEE

There is no doubt that each one of us can find a place to practice circular economy within the long list of options provided above. All we need to do is practice circular economy and share experiences.

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