Electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) has been an integral part of our daily life and has made a tremendous impact on the global economy. The developments happening in the world are improved technologies, digitization, and information technology like Artificial intelligence have increased the utilization of EEE. But these innovations have shortened the time period of these EEE, thus producing huge volumes of electronic waste and electrical equipment (WEEE). To get a global perspective, Oceania generates a per capita of 17.3 kg/inh (inhabitants), followed by Europe at 16.6 kg/inh, America at 11.6 kg/inh, Asia 4.2 kg/inh and the least contribution by Africa 1.9 kg/inh.
To give you an idea, EEE consists of complex metallic and non-metallic fractions which have the potential to cause severe dysfunctions in the ecosystem like endangering the living species; if not managed properly. Hence, there is an alarming necessity to address this issue with impactful electronic waste management strategies innovated and applied around the world.
According to the Geneva environment network, in 2021, only 17.4% of electronic waste, containing a mixture of harmful substances and precious materials, was recorded as being properly collected, treated, and recycled. These numbers have given rise to many queries, concerns, and possible hazards, and thus need an effective management system that has been identified primarily by the advanced nations and is being applied in developing countries. Some of the known law enactments, the European Union (EU) directive, Basel convention, take-back system, extended producer responsibility (EPR), the Organization for economic cooperation and Development (OCED) are working on this issue.
The mission of these laws and amendments is to manage tremendous amount of turn-ups of electronic waste in a environment friendly and effective way without changing the ecological parity. The significance of this effective e-waste management is identified and successfully been initiated in the developed countries. But unfortunately, the majority of the developing world has not yet been able to keep up with its counterpart due to various factors. These factors include lack of policies, unfair trans-boundary movements, socio-cultural aspects, lack of consumer and producer responsibilities, and lack of self-containment and many others. These obstacles that the emerging world has grown multiple e-waste dumpsites, specially in Asia and Africa.
To understand the management of Electronic waste, let us look at some of the highlights from the literature.
There is an enormous change seen recently in the past in the developing countries. For instance, a keen interest in complying the specific e-waste management systems via collaborations or through independent entities. Whereas the presence of different valuable metals and minerals converts the e-waste into an alternate metallic source. Further, the recycling process reduces the conservational effect of engineering products from raw materials and reduces the dependency on external supplies of valuable materials, securing the monopolies of the market demands.
Material flow analysis (MFA) is a recent inevitable tool used by developed countries to deal with complex waste streams. MFA has been an effective tool in resource management, waste management, and environmental management, which was as been postulated by Greek philosophers more than 200 years ago. In recent times, around 40 years back, Abel Wolman coined the term “metabolism of cities” which states the city is a living organism with inputs, stocks, and outputs of material and energy.
In a study by Brunner and Rechberger, the authors of the MFA application field quoted “MFA is a systematic assessment of the flows and stocks of materials within a system defined in space and time. It connects the sources, the pathways, and the intermediate and final sinks of a material”. As the assessment tool uses the law of the conservation of matter, the results of MFA can be controlled by a simple material balance comparing all inputs, stocks and outputs of a process. Another definition by Streicher-Porte quotes “Material ﬂow analysis (MFA) is a term used in analyzing the ﬂow of matter (compounds, chemical elements, materials or commodities) which is supported by material balancing that represents the material conservation law”. In a nutshell, this tool can keep a check on the flow of materials and provide a “balance sheet” of its utilization and keep track of it.
There are many strategies for the management of electronic waste studied in the Literature but let us look at the circular economy approach to this issue.
Circular economy models in managing electronic waste:
1. Shared economy model for electronics
A shared economy model is used to produce revenue from catering services instead of selling products. This model changes the conventional producer-consumer interactions and re-analysis traditional value chains. For example, the Uber taxi is a form of shared economy that is used by people instead of buying a car for every person. There are companies that can lease electronics to consumers. When the device reaches its maximum life span, the producer recycles, maintains, and refurbishes the product. Further, by investing in durable and modular design strategies, companies can increase product value by providing simple steps in the disassembly and recyclability of materials and recovering of precious metals.
2. Products-as-a-service (PAAS) model for electronics:
The PAAS model is another effective circular business strategy, that can be applied by businesses. It is similar o the shared economy where a customer pays a fee to use an electronic product but does not own it. For example, an Information Technology company may use a PAAS model for its computer hardware products providing a monthly subscription fee for users, which encourages the company to re-manufacture and reform products after the product is returned.
In this model, there is an option of “fee-based” where a producer is subsidized to make the products with product life extension (PLE) designs, modularity, and proper treatment at the end of its life.
There can be a limitation to the PLE model if there is a cost-effective and globally functioning reverse logistics system does not present, which can affect the proper recovery and disassembly of products. Because of the fact that components of e-waste are hazardous, recyclers can develop technologies and strategies like artificial intelligence to effectively distinguish and identify the material composition of products. In the future, robotics can be used to disassemble products and reduce health risks and contamination.
3. Product ownership model
This model uses the PLE and design for recyclability (DFR) principles while manufacturing the products. In this model, a company can keep the traditional product ownership model and give customers complete control over the product lifecycle. Unlike the shared economy and PAAS models, a manufacturer in this model has no incentive to produce products that promote PLE and DFR principles which is a key factor of the circular economy.
In this model, a company can determine milestones in the product lifecycle to which improvements can be provided to extend the life of the product. For example, companies can promote the recyclability and modularity of their products and create incentives for consumers to return their products for repair or resale. A mobile phone company can develop a “buy, repair and trade-in” scheme to emphasize effective recycling ways and increase secondary markets for recovered metals and resources.
4. Electronic waste bank model.
The waste bank program is one of the models to implement a circular economy among households. In this model, communities act as producers and consumers by processing and using household waste. The sorted products can be sold to third parties or used for daily needs. According to the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Indonesia website, the number of waste banks in Indonesia is around 11,646 units and is spread across 34 provinces and 365 cities.
Additionally, people that registered as customers at the e-waste bank will get economic benefits from selling e-waste directly or indirectly. Furthermore, there is an agreement between the waste bank manager and the community on this electronic waste sale. Thus, the waste bank accepts all types of inorganic waste such as paper, iron, non-bottle plastic, plastic bottles, cardboard, and duplex. Hence, the Waste Bank has a high potential as a model in the circular economy.
There are many such ways that can help reduce the waste produced by electronics in practice and in scientific literature. This was an example of the ways that the common man should be aware of that can motivate recycling and manage modern waste produced.
- Anjani R.K. Gollakota, Sneha Gautam, Chi-Min Shu, Inconsistencies of e-waste management in developing nations – Facts and plausible solutions, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 261, 2020, 110234, ISSN 0301-4797, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.110234
- Biswajit Debnath, Ankita Das, Abhijit Das, Chapter 29 – Towards circular economy in e-waste management in India: Issues, challenges, and solutions, Editor(s): Alexandros Stefanakis, Ioannis Nikolaou, Circular Economy and Sustainability, Elsevier, 2022, Pages 523-543, ISBN 9780128216644, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-821664-4.00003-0.
- http://www.ey.com. (n.d.). How circular economy models can address global e-waste. [online] Available at: https://www.ey.com/en_us/climate-change-sustainability-services/how-circular-economy-models-can-address-global-e-waste.
- Rimantho, D., Syaiful, S., Nurfaida and Sulandari, U. (2022). Electronic waste bank model as a solution for implementing circular economy: Case study DKI Jakarta-Indonesia. Frontiers in Built Environment, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbuil.2022.1030196.