The last couple of decades have witnessed an explosion in electronic consumer products. Our lives are now full of devices from smartphones to laptops, speakers, TVs, wearables, battery packs, and chargers – many of which we replace fairly regularly. However, the resources and energy used to make these products are finite. This article looks at how the principles of a circular economy can be applied to create a more sustainable future electronics industry.
Electronic products have rapidly become an essential component of our everyday lives. They offer utility benefits for almost every human activity. However, items like computers and smartphones lose value and perceived utility often just a year or two after they are purchased. Even though they are made from durable materials and constructed with daily use in mind, and can cost thousands of dollars, we still view smartphones and computers as disposable products.
In many ways, this problem is an inevitable consequence of the rapidly progressing nature of technology today. Technological advances have been exponential since the invention of modern computers in the second half of the twentieth century, and consumer tech today is orders of magnitude faster, more powerful, and more feature-packed than comparable products from just a decade ago.
Practically, this results in billions of smartphones, laptops, and assorted electronic devices being sent to landfills every year. Each of these devices represents quite a significant amount of embodied energy (energy used to manufacture the device and its component materials), and most use hard to come by materials like rare earth metals. Discarding them wastes the energy and materials used to manufacture them, and indirectly creates more demand for precious finite resources.