Keeping technological globetrotters in the loop


Keeping technological globetrotters in the loop

Did you know that your device might visit tens if not hundreds of countries during its lifetime, despite only surviving to the age of four?

The prospect of a circular economy seems to be gaining ground. On a global scale, there have been significant advances towards closing the loop – countries and regions have adopted roadmaps for the circular economy, and companies innovating circular solutions have surfaced across industries. Pioneers such as Finland and Japan have taken steps towards making the circular economy a coffee table discussion – Japan, who is currently hosting the second annual World Circular Economy Forum, recently announced that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be “the circular games,” with medals forged entirely from recycled e-waste materials.

Despite these advances, we know we’ve got our work cut out for us. According to the latest Circularity Gap Report, the world is currently only nine percent circular, meaning that over 90 percent of our raw materials fall out of the loop and fail to make their way back into the global economy. Worldwide e-waste predictions tell a similar story – in 2016, our combined e-waste mound weighed 44.7 million metric tonnes, or the equivalent of 4,500 Eiffel Towers. The United Nations University estimates that by 2021, this amount could exceed 57 million tonnes.

Combatting e-waste is no easy feat. Because the electronics industry relies on global material flows, local efforts can only go so far. While the majority of our electronics are manufactured in Asia, most of their components are shipped in from other countries. You’ll have to search far and wide for a locally produced device – in fact, if you’re reading this on an iPhone, it’s likely your device is made up of components from over 200 suppliers across the world. Our devices are quite the globetrotters despite their young age – the average lifespan of an iPhone is estimated at only about four years.

Thus, it’s clear that a truly circular economy requires global cooperation. While we can all play our part in maximising the useful life of our devices, how do we ensure that the principles of circular economy follow these technical globetrotters no matter where they travel?

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