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Circular Economy

Recycling E-Waste: How to Go Further and Give Your Components a Second Life

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Electronic wastes pose serious harm to human health and the environment, yet only a fraction of materials is recovered through recycling. 

In 2019, the estimated value of recoverable materials in global e-waste was $57 billion, but only 17.4 per cent of it was properly collected and recycled. Much of the rest is burned and dumped in landfills. This year alone, an estimated 57.4 million tonnes of electronic waste will be discarded, according to WEEE Forum. This translates to 20 kilos of electronic waste created per year per person in France. 

The growing consumption of electronics means that manufacturers face shortages of the raw materials needed to make their products. So, it makes economic and environmental sense to reclaim and re-use the materials from discarded products and waste.


State of e-waste recycling 


Currently, e-waste recycling is practised in two ways; formally and informally. The former approach usually involves disassembling the electronics, separating and categorising the contents by material and cleaning them. Components are then shredded and sorted using advanced technologies to retrieve valuable materials. Besides, companies must adhere to health and safety regulations to ensure proper handling of e-waste. All this makes formal recycling expensive. As a result, many companies and countries illegally export their e-waste to developing countries where recycling is cheap. 

On the other hand, informal recycling is cheaper since it is typically unlicensed and unregulated. An example is Guiyu - China’s hub of informal e-waste recycling - where 75 per cent of households extract materials from old devices to sell at a small profit. At these informal recycling workshops, men, women, and children recover valuable materials by burning or dismantling devices by hand to reclaim materials. Usually, they do not wear protective equipment and lack awareness that they are handling dangerous materials. Inhaling toxic chemicals and direct contact with hazardous e-waste materials has been linked to severe health problems and lead poisoning.


Planned obsolesce and overproduction also add to the amount of e-waste


The e-waste recycling methods discussed above are mainly concerned with electronic products end of life (EOL) – once the product has reached the end of its useful life from the vendor's or consumer’s perspective. But EOL is only one phase of the lifecycle of electronic components. E-waste management also concerns the beginning of the electronic component’s lifecycle. 

First, companies must consider the obsolescence risk associated with component lifecycles when designing a new device. With developments in the electronics arena taking place rapidly – with updates, improvements, etc. - components come and go very quickly. As a result, tons of electronic components are discarded because they need replacing. The build-up of this waste, which is still not recycled as it should be, further adds to the e-waste problem. 

Secondly, double booking practices are rampant in the electronics industry, which creates excess inventory when the market bottoms out. If the components don’t sell in time – sometimes it takes months or years to liquidate - they may become a waste quickly. In the end, companies usually cut their losses and discard the components – estimated to be worth $5 billion every year.


AIRENC: Creating a circular economy to reduce e-waste 


With the flood of e-waste growing around the world, recycling alone will not be enough. At AIRENC, we enable circularity within the electronic components sector through our peer-to-peer platform. We have built a community-driven transaction platform that enables OEMs and EMS companies to give their e-waste (components) a second life and stop it from going into landfill or selling it cheaply to brokers. If a component has gone obsolete, you can find buyers interested in it on the AIRENC platform and sell it at a fair price. Proper care is taken to ensure that you sell only to registered members so you can be sure where your components are going. This is important in view of enhancing traceability and reducing risks of components being counterfeited or scrapped anyway.  

Similarly, you can use our platform to offload surplus inventory directly to buyers interested in excess stock. Since AIRENC eliminates costly intermediaries, members sell their products at competitive prices, thus avoiding dealing with brokers. Members can also choose who they transact with in order to prevent their components from ending up with their competitors.

In situations where components fail to find any buyer, we help our members to recycle those components through our network of partners dedicated to electronics recycling. Retrieved parts can then be refurbished or recycled, giving them a second life in a circular economy.

In conclusion, the excess/obsolete electronic component, which typically becomes waste, eventually finds another use in another device where it’s most needed. So, give your e-waste a second life by joining the AIRENC circular economy.


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