CircBrief: Electronics and circular economy

News 2021-09-29 at 9:06
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The value chains of electronic products are global, complex and cause a wide range of impacts. The new publication by Circwaste project presents the environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of electronics as well as solutions, such as product life extension through design.

Short life cycle and low recycling rates as challenges

Approximately 2 million smartphones, 400 000 smart TV sets, over 300 000 personal computers and hundreds of thousands of other electronic devices are being sold annually in Finland. Their active lifetime is short despite constant technical development.

Electronics contain a wide variety of materials, especially metals, some classified as rare earth metals or conflict minerals. Their mining is associated with social issues and environmental degradation.

Material complexity of electronic products makes recycling very challenging. In addition, some electronic products reach recycling with a significant delay.

Longer lifespan through sustainable design and repairability

Environmental impacts are determined already during the design phase. With proper design decisions, the recyclability of the devices can be significantly improved.

“To keep existing devices in used for longer, consumers need to be better informed about their rights to repair and about the expected life span of products they buy. Coupled with a warranty, refurbished used devices, products-as-a-service, and third-party repairs are examples of consumer-friendly services effectively extending the lifespan of products”, says researcher Jáchym Judl from SYKE.

Organisational buyers, such as companies, public agencies or municipalities are a strong purchasing power. Through purchasing criteria, they can promote more sustainable practices.

See publication

More information

  • Researcher Jáchym Judl, Finnish Environment Institute,

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