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What does the future hold for electronics?

electronics sustainability ‘circular economy’.

There’s no doubt that sustainability has become the buzzword of the 21st century. And if you’re clued up on all things sustainability, chances are you’ve come across the words ‘circular economy’.

The circular economy is a radical rethink of the way we use materials and the disposable culture that we live in today. The idea behind it is a simple but important one: by designing out waste, we can keep products and materials in circulation rather than sending them – as we so frequently do – to the trash heap.

At the forefront of the circular economy movement is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Founded in 2009, they exist to inspire a generation to rethink the current ‘take, make and dispose’ model – a model that is no longer working due to the growing amounts of waste.

For the world of electronics, this would mean a sharp reduction in e-waste, the world’s largest hazardous waste stream. In 2019 alone we hit a record amount of e-waste globally at 53.6 million metric tonnes – a 21% increase since 2014.

Here, we’ve compiled our key points from a paper by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation funded by Google which looks at how electronics could fit within a circular economy and what that could mean for the future.

We need a change in attitude towards electronics

Over the last couple of decades, electronics have completely transformed the way we communicate, shop, live and work. Yet despite their importance, most devices are seen as disposable – especially once they reach their ‘best before’ condition (more info on this over on Medium).

Refurbished goods are having their moment

This brings us to the next key point. Keeping electronics in circulation means refurbishing them for further use: “Eventually, devices end up in the hands of specialists, who will professionally refurbish products, reuse or remanufacture the valuable components inside, and separate and recycle materials,” the Foundation adds.

This is already happening and the response has been monumental – in 2019, there was an 18% YoY growth for refurbished smartphones while sales of brand new smartphones dropped by 2%. This is no doubt due to consumer opinions changing towards refurbished goods, including no longer needing the ‘latest and greatest’ model and the desire to save money.

For the likes of office buildings, this means a vast reduction in waste and a cleverer way to kit out teams with the latest tech, like our refurbished laptops, which are almost new but without the new price tag. It also means a massive step towards increasing the amount of e-waste recycling. With cloud computing and storage, users simply need a device to access their files – and a refurbished laptop at a low price tag fits the bill.

Reform needs to happen from the top, not just the bottom

Plenty of brands and companies ask their customers to shop consciously, rethink their consumption habits and ‘go green’. Yet without the necessary knowledge and tools to make that happen, it’s easier said than done – and makes consumers susceptible to ‘greenwashing’.

Electronics recycling fits within this; a lack of knowledge among consumers is the reason so many old phones, devices and laptops are lurking in tucked away places (in the UK alone, there are 527 million disused electrical products, or 20 per household).

With Reconome, it’s easier than ever to use electronics sustainably. Not only do we exist to change the way businesses and consumers think about technology, we want to make it easier than ever to put that technology back into use. We do this by collecting, repairing, reusing and recycling – read more on this here

To the future

It’s clear that while the digitalisation of the world continues to accelerate, electronics will remain as central as ever so it’s important that we get on the right track with electronics management. There certainly is a future for electronics, and within a circular economy it could be a very positive one. 

Read more about how Reconome is rethinking e-waste recycling and the lifecycle of electronics.