Electronics’ easy usage and quick disposal are due to the components that make them possible. Compounds poisonous to humans and damaging to ecosystems are found in parts of smartphones, laptops, and even kitchen appliances.
E-waste has accumulated as devices have gotten cheaper to purchase. E-waste is “the fastest-growing waste stream in the world,” according to a 2019 report from the World Economic Forum, and for a good reason. According to the U.N.’s Global E-waste Monitor, individuals produced more than 50 million metric tons of e-waste that same year. Much of it is burned, stacked up in landfills, or exported to low-income nations where it poses risks to the environment and public health.
The Urgency of Making Environmentally-Friendly Electronics
Despite these issues, only 17.4% of the world’s electronic waste is formally collected and recycled. Our existing linear “take, manufacture, and dispose of” approach for electronics is the source of the issue; if we want to keep using our electronic equipment, we must switch to a more sustainable method. The conventional linear economic model extensively uses inexpensive, easily accessible materials and energy, disregards waste, and employs techniques like planned obsolescence, in which products are made to have short lifespans to entice repeat consumer purchases.
The electronics sector must work toward a circular economy to address these problems. The life cycle of items is extended, and waste is kept to a minimum in the “circular economy,” which is a production and consumption model involving sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing resources and products as long as feasible. Materials are preserved in the economy whenever possible when products end their valuable lives.
Utilising fewer resources and prolonging the life of products and their components are two ways that circular business models enable businesses to gain value. These models can open up new economic prospects for enterprises with innovative business models and the more effective utilisation of raw materials. However, there is an even greater need for a circular economy in electronics to prevent resource depletion, environmental damage, and health effects. Additionally, this economy must assist a broader shift to a Net Zero economy to lessen the effects of GHG-induced climate change.
5 Steps to a Sustainable Future
How to strike a balance between diminishing supply and increasing amounts of electronic trash presents a new problem for the electronics sector. To meet the challenge, innovative, long-lasting strategies are required.
The demand for electronics is rising due to the industrial sector’s digitalisation and the expansion of digital services. By 2050, the amount of electronics consumed worldwide is anticipated to double. Only 20% of electronic waste is effectively recycled, and its volume is increasing at a 6.5% annual pace. The status quo opposes the EU’s goals, which call for Finland to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and the EU to do so by 2050. Electronics and ICT are recognised as essential value chains in the Circular Economy Action Plan of the European Commission.
Environmental goals must be incorporated into the design process and technical requirements throughout a product’s lifecycle. Energy efficiency, material efficiency, flexible and prolonged product lifecycles, and material recyclability are just a few of the goals of ecodesign. Each product component must be separated at any point in the manufacturing process and used as secondary material.
The EU Ecodesign Directive specifies minimum standards for general and category-based products, although ecodesign can also have a more expansive goal of sustainable lifetime management. Utilising second-hand raw materials in new industrial ecosystems is one step toward waste-free circulation. Numerous businesses assist industrial clients in creating innovative recycled materials, goods, and procedures. These solutions extend the useful life of the materials and lessen the lack of raw materials.
Sustainable Choices of Raw Materials
Electronics manufacturing needs to utilise more raw materials made from naturally replenishable resources. Cellulosic materials like paper and nanocellulose are excellent examples, which companies and groups have already successfully employed as electronic printing platforms. Between 2011 and 2015, manufacturers took part in the ROPAS project, which entailed printing sensors on paper. Due to its potential for durability, nanocellulose could replace FR4 or PET films in circuit boards and electrical items. Nanocellulose can be used to create much thinner films while utilizing less material. Nanocellulose based on fibres is entirely biodegradable and is produced from renewable natural resources.
Innovation of New Biodegradable Materials
Additionally, the electronics sector requires bioplastics that safely decompose into carbon dioxide and water. These components are necessary for cutting-edge solutions, including sensors monitoring agricultural, environmental, and weather conditions and using single-use diagnostic tests for consumers. In these applications, the electronic parts must be at least somewhat biodegradable.
Another illustration is cutting-edge, biodegradable food product packaging. For instance, sensors attached to the packaging can monitor the temperature and determine whether the cold chain has been compromised after the fact. To avoid problems with the processing of packaging trash, these components must be biodegradable. Both the market and manufacturing quantities for novel bioplastics are expanding. These materials can potentially create new solutions because they can endure moisture better than cellulose-based substitutes.
Employing Energy and Material-Efficient Manufacturing Techniques
Many conventional methods of producing electronics rely on removing material gradually over time. Contrarily, roll-to-roll methods like printing only intended to add material where required. By doing this, production waste is decreased.
Proper Disposal and Recycling of Materials and Components
Not every situation calls for biodegradable solutions; in these circumstances, the circular economy is the best option. For instance, 1.5 billion new mobile phones are used every year. Old mobile phones end up in landfills or desk drawers, meaning their parts and materials are lost. Reusing these resources in the sector is necessary.
Smartphones, laptops, and wearable technology have become indispensable in our daily lives. Due to the boom of devices, the worldwide consumer electronics sector is now projected to be worth $1 trillion (rapidly growing). However, even though these devices are sometimes composed of sturdy materials like metal and plastic, they are frequently viewed as disposables and thrown away after usage, creating enormous volumes of waste.
The significance of environmentally conscious electronics design will only increase as governments and consumers become more “green conscious.” All of us who produce and develop electronic goods are involved in this industry-wide endeavour.
While many factors must be considered when building sustainable products, it is crucial to think about them immediately. These factors include the product’s design, materials, number of parts, size, and ethical suppliers.