Electronic products come with social and environmental challenges, many of them linked to today’s linear economy. January 24 is Circular Electronics Day, an initiative aiming to encourage organizations and consumers to take a more responsible approach to the electronic goods they use.
In today’s linear economy, we take virgin natural resources to manufacture products, which often have a short lifespan before they are discarded. This leads to a number of serious sustainability issues, affecting human health and the environment. From raw materials extraction to final assembly, working hours, health and safety and forced labor are examples of industry-wide issues. Conflict minerals used in IT products are known to fuel wars and human rights abuses. Hazardous substances present a wide variety of risks. Valuable natural resources are overused and the problem with e-waste is severe. Worldwide, 50 million metric tons of electronic waste are generated every year. It is often handled in unsafe ways, leading to human health problems and environmental degradation.
Even though manufacturers hold the ultimate responsibility for their products, other stakeholders such as policy makers, NGO’s, and purchasers need to work together and contribute to solutions.
“Buyers have the power to influence the industry to move in a more sustainable direction. By making responsible purchasing decisions, they can have a direct effect on human health, lives, and the environment,” says Andreas Rehn, development manager at TCO Development, the organization behind the global sustainability certification for IT products, TCO Certified.
The organizers of Circular Electronics Day encourage both individuals and organizations to use electronics more responsibly and inspire others to take circular action with the hashtag #CircularElectronicsDay. While large organizations have more power to make a difference, everyone can contribute. Decisions made before purchasing a product has the most significant impact.
- Consider if you really need the product.
- Can you buy it second hand?
- Is it possible to rent the product?
- Can you repair or refurbish an old product?
“Keeping products and materials in use longer is the single most effective thing we can do to lower the negative impact and reduce e-waste. Electronics contain scarce, valuable resources and should never be treated as waste. Instead, materials should be recirculated and used in new products”, says Andreas Rehn.
If repairing, renting or buying the product second hand is not an option and you have decided to purchase a new product, think about the following to extend product life:
If you can, purchase a high-performance product. It enables you to keep it for a longer time, through your own use or by a second-hand owner.
- Choose a durable and robust product that can withstand wear and tear.
- Make sure that the design of the product you buy allows for repairs and upgrades, that service manuals and spare parts are easily available, and that the battery is replaceable.
- To make your purchasing decision easier, look for a sustainability certification that includes circular criteria. Select a certification compliant with ISO 14024. Criteria must then be comprehensive, relevant and cover the product’s full life cycle. Compliance with the criteria must be verified by an independent part.
- Sell your old product, or hand it in to a refurbishing or recycling facility, or another collection point where the materials are taken care of. Many retailers and second-hand shops accept that you leave your old products with them for refurbishing or recycling.
- Climate compensate the negative impact of your new product by offsetting the e-waste footprint, either by recycling a product with a similar footprint or by purchasing the offsetting as a service.
“When organizations join together, we can drive real change. At Circular Electronics Day, we want to inspire and set examples of how consumers and organizations can have a large impact through small, everyday decisions,” says Hanna Ljungkvist Nordin from IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, one of the initiators of Circular Electronics Day.
About Circular Electronics Day
Circular Electronics Day aims to encourage organizations and consumers to take a more responsible approach to the electronic goods they use. Standing behind the initiative are Chalmers Industriteknik,Dustin European Environmental Bureau, CATAPA, Closing the Loop, IfixIT, Inrego, IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, Lenovo, Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University, Recipo, TCO Development, Tradera and Xllnc.