Accelerating Circular Solutions for Electronics

Category : Blog Post

Circular thinking and the concept of closing the loop is gaining considerable momentum in some sectors and industries

While not entirely new, there is growing interest, excitement and acknowledgement that a circular economy is key to achieving a sustainable future.

Australia’s first major conference on the circular economy – Powering the Change – is about to take place in South Australia and it promises to be an agenda-setting event. On November 15-17 in Adelaide, business, government and academia come together to collaborate and discuss how the circular economy can be, and is being, implemented.

Powering the Change … will help raise awareness, build knowledge and stimulate further action in our region. Participants wıll leave the conference armed with knowledge, networks and enthusiasm to make the case for and drive circular economy approaches and projects ın their organisation or jurisdiction.

The recognition of closed loop models and approaches by key organisations such as the European Commission, WRAP and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, has elevated the importance of why society must extract maximum value from the materials and products we consume day in day out. The need to move well beyond the linear economy should be obvious, especially if we are to avoid devouring the future.

There is a strong and optimistic sense of what can be achieved if enthusiastic collaboration can conceive and drive the myriad of solutions that are required. Positive interventions are essential across sectors, industries and communities. There is no single player that can deliver a circular economy, but there are teams of champions who can demonstrate and shape truly circular outcomes.

The challenge for all of us is to go beyond the rhetoric of closed loops and execute real-world outcomes. Dressing-up yesterday’s recycling activities certainly isn’t circular (or sustainable), especially if it’s characterised by down-cycling with low-value outcomes. Effective implementation that embodies circular economy principles will be the ultimate measure of success.

Design and designers must also feature more widely in the circular economy toolbox. Many product-related impacts are determined at the design stage, and as a consequence, impacts can be replaced with product features that are restorative and regenerative; not just ameliorative and incremental.

The European Commission talks about the circular economy and its importance as a strategic imperative, not just a one-dimensional approach to waste management:

“To ensure sustainable growth for the EU we have to use our resources in a smarter, more sustainable way. It is clear that the linear model of economic growth we relied on in the past is no longer suited for the needs of today’s modern societies in a globalised world. We cannot build our future on a ‘take-make-dispose’ model. Many natural resources are finite, we must find an environmentally and economically sustainable way of using them. It is also in the economic interest of businesses to make the best possible use of their resources.”

The European Commission’s overview is not peculiar to Europe or the northern hemisphere. Many if not all of the issues and potential benefits equally apply to Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific.

So how do we accelerate circular solutions for electronics and the rapid onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

A conference session to explore solutions for all things electronic

With our seemingly endless appetite for the latest electronic devices and their cocktail of batteries, precious metals and low value materials, identifying and exploring workable circular solutions is an urgent challenge for the electronics industry.

More specifically:

  • What if we were to move beyond the mere collection and recycling of unwanted goods and consumables – and manage the entire product life cycle instead?
  • What options are there for businesses that want to disrupt this dynamic?
  • How can corporates change their business model? Or do regulators need to change the rules?

A dedicated session at the Adelaide conference will focus on electronic products, as well as associated consumables such as batteries. The panel of professionals from industry, government and academia will share some visions of what circular electronics could look like in Australia, along with suggestions for how we could get there.

The session will be moderated by Rose Read, CEO of DropZone by MRI, and John Gertsakis, Director of Communications at Equilibrium, who jointly bring many years of experience in the policy and practice of product stewardship.

Most importantly the panel will comprise several well-informed individuals to help stimulate discussion and solicit input from conference delegates:

  • Peter Brisbane, Director, Stewardship and Waste at the Department of the Environment and Energy will share a national policy perspective – reflecting on successes and challenges of Australia’s product stewardship initiatives in electronics including batteries.
  • Carmel Dollisson, CEO of Australia & New Zealand Recycling Platform (TechCollect), will share how her founding companies – including Canon, DELL, HP, Fuji-Xerox and IBM – are working with councils and recyclers to ensure at least 90% of the commodities recovered from the e-waste collected across Australia are used in the manufacture of new products.
  • Monique Retamal, Research Principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS, will share her research into increasing product longevity, with a focus on ‘slowing’ life cycles by repairing, sharing and reusing, as opposed to the current focus on recycling, or ‘closing’ material loops.
  • Glen Winkler, State General Manager, South Australia & Northern Territory in Global Enterprise and Services, Telstra Corporation. Glen will share his insights on Telstra’s Electronics Reuse and Recycling Strategy – ‘Unlocking Hidden Value’, as well as how ICT can play a wider role in delivering environmental outcomes.

Complex and challenging to say the least, but vital if we are to positively change our patterns of production and consumption to maximise resource value.

Current practices typically lean towards business as usual, however it’s time to consider how fundamental business redesign, new consumption patterns, and dynamic regulation might enable truly circular action.

Visit the conference website for more information and how to register.