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September 19th, 2023



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Overcoming Market Challenges to Create a Circular Economy for Electronics

Electronic waste, or e-waste, has emerged as one of the most challenging and fast-growing environmental issues of the 21st century. Devices are becoming more and more sophisticated, yet the recycling industry is still in its relative infancy – a perfect storm for market challenges as the industry tries to keep up with the growing e-waste stockpile. This failure is underpinned by the widespread belief that devices lose their value once worn out, broken or superseded by the newest model. So, in this blog, we delve into some of the market factors fuelling the e-waste stockpile and explore potential ways to overcome these issues.

Planned Obsolescence and Lack of Incentives

Planned obsolescence is one of the most significant market issues contributing to the e-waste problem. Manufacturers design products with a deliberately limited lifespan to encourage people to replace them with newer models. This not only accelerates the global e-waste stockpile but also cements the idea that these devices are disposable and need to be upgraded or replaced frequently. For example, it’s not uncommon for leading smart phone manufacturers to release a new model each year, with people lining up outside stores to get their hands on the latest device. As a result, electronics are discarded well before they reach the end of their functional life.

Another gap in the e-waste market is the lack of economic incentives for businesses and individuals to recycle their old electronics. We’ve seen how successful these incentives can be with the Return and Earn container deposit scheme (CDS) that collected more than 4.86 billion bottles, cans and containers in just over two years (Return and Earn, 2020). While there is no cash incentive for individuals and businesses to recycle their e-waste, the National Television & Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) requires manufacturers to fund recycling costs. However, the amount doesn’t cover the full cost to recyclers and is only for televisions and computers. Some drop off services are provided free to the public by local councils or technology retailers, but there is no economic incentive for businesses, schools, community organisations or institutions to recycle their e-waste rather than dumping it in the general waste bin.

Overcoming Market Failures to Reduce E-waste

Concepts like circular economy and resource regeneration are still evolving as critical concepts to shift away from the view that end-of-life products are “waste”. Here are some potential concepts that could support a more sustainable e-waste market by counteracting issues of planned obsolescence and lack of incentives:

Products as a Service: Once an electronic product is purchased, the decision and responsibility to recycle it at end-of-life is transferred to the consumer. This poses a challenge in ensuring electronics are recycled. The idea of manufacturers renting out products as a service could offer a sustainable alternative and combat the issue of planned obsolescence. Manufacturers would have a vested interest in creating more durable products and be responsible for repairs and recycling throughout the entire life cycle. This would incentivise companies to create longer lasting and more repairable products, reducing the frequency of replacements and curbing e-waste accumulation.

Incentive-Based Programs: Governments could collaborate with manufacturers to create financial incentives to engage in more sustainable practices. For example, governments could fund a program that incentivises electronics manufacturers to create products using recycled metals and plastics. Western Australia has introduced a similar model with the Roads to Reuse (RtR) incentive program that rewards local governments with $5 per tonne for procuring recycled road base for civil applications.

Awareness and Education Campaigns: We all know that we should recycle but putting that into practice can be complicated and confusing with what can and can’t go in the bin. Governments, non-profit organisations, schools, and businesses need to engage with resource regeneration experts to educate their audiences about the value in end-of-life electronics and options for recycling. State and Territory governments could play a crucial role in this by providing facts sheets and information to schools and local councils about recycling e-waste.

Regenerating the finite resources in electronics is imperative for sustaining connectivity across time zones and continents. Flipping the way we view and treat e-waste – not as “waste” but as a valuable resource for tomorrow – is at the heart of the systemic change required to drive positive environmental outcomes across sectors. Only with collaboration from manufacturers, governments, consumers, businesses, and recyclers can Australia create a future where e-waste means no waste at all. Part of Sircel’s philosophy is a commitment to collaborating with complementary service providers. Through clever collaboration, we can deliver a more holistic solution to an ever-growing problem.

Sircel’s world-leading solution is changing the game for e-waste recycling. To find out more about how we can support your environmental goals, contact us today via hello@sircel.com.

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