A Circular Economy Approach to E-Waste Management

The Conventional Economic System was based on linear models where natural resources were exploited and converted into some products which were to become waste eventually. There was no flexibility in crafting and design of products so that they could be reused or recycled. On the other hand, the Circular Economy Approach works on an innovative economic model to tackle the global crises of pollution, loss of biodiversity, climate change and e-waste management.

A circular economy approach favours closed loop systems where resources are employed carefully to create innovative products which can be used for longer periods of time by reusing, sharing, refurbishing and recycling. Longer periods and smart design also imply greater productivity. Therefore, the circular economy approach is going to be the backbone of sustainable economies of the future.

Presently, millions of tons of electronic waste is produced every year around the globe because of the conventional economic system. Even in most advanced parts of the world like the European Union, less than 50 percent of total e-waste produced undergoes recycling. This dismal state of affairs can be changed by applying a circular economy approach to management of e-waste. People must be made part of this approach, mobile recycling must be encouraged as much as possible.

Circular economy runs on proper recycling. In fact, any circular economy will require a dedicated recycling industry. Therefore, an e-waste recycling industry should be developed. In India, most of the recycling work is done by untrained rag-pickers because of lack of awareness about the circular model of economy. More formal e-waste management practices must be supported. In the waste management industry, extended producer responsibility (EPR) strategy is employed that entails adding the lifetime environmental costs of a product to the selling price of that product. The EPR legislation drives the implementation of remanufacturing initiatives. A robust recycling industry supported by recycling culture with the proper implementation of EPR, extended producer responsibility, is the need of the hour.

Reusing of products is also important in closed loop economic systems. There are various households in India, which throw away their older phones, laptops and tablets once they bring the latest models. At the same time there are various households where having a smart phone is luxury. Circular economy approach can be used to create such pathways in the economy where used electronic products are redistributed amongst the underprivileged and reused. One good example can be collecting electronic gadgets from cities and redistributing them in schools and slums where students can use them to avail the benefits of modern education. This will increase the productivity of the electronic gadget and help in constraining the menace of e-waste. There are many electronic waste recycling plants in India like Namo E-Waste that are working towards implementing a circular economy approach to enable sustainable resources.

Development of the urban mining sector has so much potential that it can dramatically reduce the electronic waste. For example, it is easier to extract 1 kg of gold from used electronic devices than digging it from a mine. Although metals are extracted from devices in India, the efficiency is very low because it is not seen as a valuable enterprise. If it is developed into an industry, a lot of metals can be extracted from the electronic waste which will increase the circularity of the economy. Namo E-waste, an e-waste management company in India supports a circular economy approach and is working towards making extraction of metals from e-waste efficient and convenient.

Therefore, the circular economy approach and closed loop models are futuristic and it is high time to bring them into action as e-waste production is going to increase exponentially in the future and if proper steps are not taken it will cause irreparable damage to our environment at all levels.