Understanding the Circular Economy for Tech in Five Minutes

Understanding the Circular Economy for Tech in Five Minutes

PUBLISHED: 05 September 2023

With most of us in the habit of exchanging our smartphones and laptops for new ones every other year, the impacts of the current throwaway society within consumer tech are unsurprisingly far-reaching.

Not only does manufacturing electronics demand a huge amount of energy and raw materials – especially rare earth materials such as lithium – the disposal of the devices we don’t need ends up generating large amounts of waste (e-waste, to be specific). Volumes of e-waste are expected to hit nearly 75 million metric tons by 2030 and the UK is set to become the largest contributor in Europe by 2024.

As many of our pre-loved smartphones, laptops, and tablets end up collecting dust in our drawers – at best – or worse, get thrown away into landfills, this is where the need for alternative ecosystems such as a ‘circular economy’ comes into play.

Read on to learn all about the circular economy and simple ways for us to sustainably own and use our tech.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is one in which we reuse our resources rather than dispose of them. Essentially, it’s a blueprint for consumption that doesn’t demand endless resources, create mountains of waste and generate short-lived products. Instead, it encourages refurbishing, repairing and reusing the products and materials that already exist and are in circulation.

The model, in its idealistic form, is 100% zero-waste. All materials currently in a product will remain in the product or will eventually be used to create new products. Lifecycles are prolonged and second-hand use is encouraged.

By reusing and managing our resources, a lower volume of raw materials is required to produce consumer electronics. And as a result, resources can be redistributed to more vital technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles.

How to achieve a circular economy?

Achieving a circular economy is reliant on the “reduce, reuse, recycle” principle. The aim is to extend the life of products, and in turn the resources they contain. This limits further unsustainable sourcing of finite materials by repurposing and prolonging existing products. The best method for this is to repair and refurbish older or broken devices, instead of immediately disposing of them.

With consumer tech such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, there are a few simple ways to keep our devices in circulation longer, thereby decreasing the demand for new resources.

Reuse – Just because you no longer need or want a device, doesn’t mean it has reached the end of its lifecycle. The product can be sold or given to another user who will go on to use it for several more years, therefore prolonging the time that the materials are in use and extending its value (Reclaiming some of the value from your original purchase is also not to be sniffed at).

Refurbishing – Broken doesn’t have to be forever. The beauty of tech is that it’s made of hundreds of parts that combine into one genius, world-shaping device. This means that components such as screens, ports and speakers can be repaired to give the device a new life.

With the two steps above, we can slow down our wasteful consumption habits relating to electronic devices and embrace the circularity of reusing instead.

The third step is recycling.

Recycling – This should be a last resort when a product is beyond repair. The idea behind recycling your electronics is to recover valuable materials and reuse them in new devices, or something entirely different - yes, your phone could go on to help build a wind turbine or solar panel in a few years!

How to use tech sustainably within a circular economy?

A truly circular economy doesn’t necessarily require a systemic change in how we operate and live as individuals, businesses, and governments. It can be as simple as selling your unwanted phone to a green tech company like Spring, buying second-hand or repairing the screen you cracked on a night out!

Keeping in mind that your phone has value beyond what you can see will help you to contribute to the circular economy. And remember, don’t throw it away!

If you fancy selling your tech and doing your bit for the circular economy for tech, Spring is your truested partner in tech sustainability. Go to www.spring.co.uk and get started!

Back to blog articles