According to a new report published by the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), emphasis should be put on developing and implementing circular design principles into electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) as 80% of environmental pollution and 90% of manufacturing costs are the result of decisions made at the product design stage.
Using recycled plastic in an electrical/electronic product could reduce the environmental impact of a single product by over 20%, they say, while up to 50% of the 1.2 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) plastics in the EU could be recycled instead of the current 20%. If all WEEE plastics in Europe were recycled, estimated CO2 emission reductions would account for over 2.5 million tonnes per year.
The authors suggest targets for circular electrical and electronic equipment (CEEE) akin to those in the EU plastics strategy, which stipulates 50% recycled plastic content in packaging material by 2025 and 55% by 2030.
Sector-wide circular design principles can be achieved by setting up a roundtable that brings companies and value-chain actors together, whereby both parties could learn from each other. The authors point out that incorrect markings on plastics have resulted in a situation where recyclers do not trust the markings on plastics, which means that different types of plastics are not separated even when technologically possible.
They say that ultimately, the goal should be to design and set up a system that enables circulation, i.e. taking products back and reprocessing material back to the same product over and over again. At the moment, the focus is on recycling valuable metals, “but as the world is moving towards circularity and the amount of EEE is growing fast, plastics need to be used in a more circular fashion”.
In terms of legislation, requirements for using recycled content would speed up the market transition towards circularity. Requirements for circular design principles – especially reparability, upgradability, modularity and ease of disassembly (RUMED) – could be first encouraged in the form of sector-wide principles and gradually formulated into requirements. Removing existing barriers, such as transporting e-waste across borders within the EU, is equally important.
Note that I originally wrote this up for ENDS Europe Daily, but articles there can only be accessed by subscribers.