Why is a circular economy for electronics important?
Electronics have transformed the way we live and work. Today’s global consumer electronics market is worth an estimated US$1 trillion, and is projected to continue growing.
Electronic waste also represents the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with products often thrown away prematurely and less than 20% collected and recycled. Raw materials valued at approximately $57 billion are lost in e-waste globally—mainly iron, copper, and gold—and lack of proper collection and recycling leads to pollution and health hazards.
At the same time, new production of vast quantities of smartphones and computers are using ever more natural resources and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
A circular economy is vital if we are to transform the electronics industry’s effects on human health, the environment, and biodiversity. It will allow us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save precious resources, and protect workers and communities from health hazards associated with waste. The industry urgently needs to become more sustainable and resilient.
What could circularity for the electronics industry look like?
In a circular economy for electronics
New products use more recycled and recyclable contentMaking electronic products from recycled materials, and ensuring they are designed to be recycled again at the end of their life, will reduce demand for natural resources and prevent pollution.
Products and their components are used for longerDesigning electrical products and their components for longevity, and changing consumer behavior to make them stay in use for longer, helps to reduce demand for new products. This cuts down resource use and other destructive environmental and social impacts from production and waste.
End-of-use products are collected and recycled to a high standardIn 2019, 54 million metric tons of e-waste was generated, of which just 17.4% was collected and recycled. In a circular economy, products no longer suitable for use or reuse are collected, sorted and recycled using socially and environmentally responsible practices. This prevents the pollution and health hazards associated with e-waste.
How to transition to a circular economy for electronics
Companies, governments, civil society organizations all have a role to play in creating a circular economy for the electronics industry. These ten calls-to-action can help us accelerate the transition, and make it as impactful as possible.