From abandoned phones to outdated computers, electronic waste is on the rise. Intuitively you might think that recycling is a key solution to combating e-waste. But in practice, investing a circular economy and establishing a culture of reuse could go a lot further in mitigating e-waste.
The Unique Challenge of Combating E-Waste
Through recycling, we can ensure that electronic components avoid entering landfills and offset the environmental toll of e-waste in landfills. But electronics pose significant risks when inappropriately discarded since the chemical components make their way into our atmosphere, water supplies, and food chains. Unfortunately, this is often the case because e-waste laws and regulations only cover 66% of the global population.
Yet while certainly helpful in reducing inappropriate e-waste, recycling measures have their limits. Worldwide, we only correctly recycle 20% of e-waste. For the remaining 80%, many end up in incorrect recycling channels, posing great environmental hazards.
So to curb e-waste, recycling is not a sufficient answer. We must pair recycling efforts with better reuse efforts.
A natural solution to this challenge lies in the circular economy framework, which functions by limiting wastes and elongating resources’ lifespans. So, instead of disposing of a still-functioning product, it would enter an economic stream with the intention of continued use until it reaches its last legs.
The Implications of a Circular Economy
Electronics exemplify a unique resource, granted their high value, lifespans, and demand. But planned obsolescence often forces electronic products into the waste stream far before their due time. And we only trade in 12% of these quickly expiring smartphones for their updated versions. Presumably, the rest eventually end up in landfills.
But what if traded in more than 12% of used devices? How close could we get to 100% reuse, refurbishment, or remanufacturing? Such a feat would greatly limit electronic waste and support a more sustainable tech industry for years to come.
“An electronic asset that is removed from the original user’s environment most often has an economic benefit to another user in another market,” he added. “Product lifecycles can be extended by efficiently finding users in the markets, and thus reduce contributions to e-waste streams.”
So with a circular economy, not only can tech manufacturers avoid the environmental and economic burdens of starting from scratch, but we can also alleviate the social disparities in access to technology. And so pairing a circular economy approach with better recycling systems is far better than recycling alone.