Traditionally, the industrial economy has followed a linear path. Raw materials such as metals are processed to make products, and at the end of their lifespan, they typically go to waste—just 9% of materials are recycled. By overloading our landfills with waste products, we’re contributing to climate change and other major environmental problems. The circular economy aims to put a stop to the sweeping environmental impact we’ve been creating since the Industrial Revolution.
What is the Circular Economy?
An economic system with the goal of eliminating waste and re-using resources indefinitely, the circular economy combines traditional conservation efforts (such as reduce, reuse, and recycle) with new strategies (such as renting products instead of purchasing them). Additionally, it calls for strategic manufacturing from the design phase to plan ahead for reuse or recycling at the end of a product’s lifespan, a program commonly referred to as producer responsibility.
Why is E-Waste Particularly Concerning?
Waste has become an increasingly challenging problem across a number of industries, including textiles and food. E-waste, in particular, is one of the most significant contributors to the global landfill problem, as only a fifth of electronic devices are recycled. Moreover, electronics have notoriously short life cycles; the average lifespan for most devices is four to five years. Furthermore, e-waste is more dangerous than most other types of trash since it introduces heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and lithium into the soil, which can then enter groundwater.
As technological developments accelerate and consumers continuously seek out the newest and best products, the e-waste problem will only intensify if mitigation strategies aren’t put into place. Through the circular economy, we have an opportunity to control the environmental impact of electronics. Plus, there are economic incentives for repurposing materials. There’s a tremendous opportunity to cash in on valuable resources such as copper and plastic through reuse and recycling, instead of letting them go to waste.
How We Can Support the Circular Economy to Save the Planet
Of course, pursuing a fully circular economy in which there is virtually no waste is an uphill battle. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, waste was much less of a concern. For instance, farmers would only buy as much livestock as their land could support, so having a surplus of meat or dairy was an unlikely occurrence. Given the complexity of today’s manufacturing and supply chains, planning ahead to eliminate waste will necessitate tremendous cooperation and foresight.
With every type of trash we produce, however, there’s an opportunity for innovation. Some companies have gotten creative and begun converting waste into resources for others; for instance, a major insulin producer now sends its waste to bioenergy plants to convert byproducts into biogas and fertilizer.
Most importantly, governments must enact legislation that will lay the foundation for the circular economy. From there, manufacturers, retailers, and other businesses will adopt compliance efforts that satisfy the regulatory requirements. This process is already underway in the province of Ontario, where producers are being held responsible for managing the waste created by their products and packaging. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program replaces the traditional, linear industrial economy with closed loop materials management. It requires businesses to fund the cost of recycling or safely disposing of the waste created by their products, or to take an innovative approach to repurposing their end-of-life products, thereby transforming the supply chain into a continuous loop. Ontario is the first region in the world to enact such an extensive policy, and Quantum is proud to be headquartered in the province where such groundbreaking strides are being made.
While there’s no way to say whether we’ll ever achieve zero waste, we can do our best to minimize our contributions to landfills by making conscious choices. One good place to start is ensuring your e-waste is disposed of responsibly. From electronic drop-off bins located across Canada to partnerships with companies of all sizes, Quantum’s ongoing efforts are concentrated on providing ethical solutions for processing e-waste and doing our part to support the circular economy.
If you have ongoing waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), turn to Quantum for certified electronic recycling. Find out more about our solutions here or by calling (888) 676-4992.