The 3R in the “Go Green” initiative: Can it improve e-waste management?

Asia pushes to go green in an attempt to mitigate the rising pile of electronic waste through the 3Rs of Circular Economy.

Parallel to the prevalence of mobile technology, Asia pushes to go green. It is in an attempt to mitigate the rising pile of electronic waste (e-waste) through sustainable practices that inflict less harm on the environment.  Among these is the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (3R) method. One that is at the very core of the Circular Economy that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible to reduce waste, and regenerate natural systems. 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted the Framework for a Circular Economy. They aim to expedite the transition towards a low-carbon economy. By ‘going green’ mindset, the circular economy emerges as a viable solution on how to minimize waste in the region. Said sustainable model aims to move past environmentally destructive ways, promoting a more responsible and eco-conscious way of mobile technology production.

Asia’s case

Despite rapid modernization and the booming latest mobile technology arena, Asia grapples with e-waste management crisis. E-waste refers to electronic devices, equipment, or materials that have become obsolete or are no longer in use. 

In 2019, Asia produced the largest volume of e-waste, amounting to 24.9 million metric tons. Also, the region exhibited the most rapid growth in e-waste patterns among regions, according to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report.

A year later, the World Bank estimated about 2.24 billion tons of solid waste generation, globally. It equates to 0.79 kilograms per person per day. Considering that waste generation is continuous, it may lead to an annual waste production of an alarming 73% by 2050.

E-waste crisis escalates in SEA

By 2021, the Southeast Asia (SEA) region recorded a staggering 12.3 million metric tons of e-waste. Primarily, the ‘linear economy,’ which uses a ‘take-make-dispose’ sequencing, has taken a toll on the conventional supply chain.

The model uses the extraction of virgin resources from the environment to create products. Then, dispose of the end product after use or consumption. Hence, the adoption of a circular economy is being deemed as a significant contributor to achieving the region’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). 

“To encourage the adoption of CE [circular economy] amongst stakeholders, ASEAN needs to consider a holistic approach that addresses opportunities and challenges of CE from both the supply and demand side,”

ASEAN says.

Significance of the 3Rs in the mobile industry

The 3Rs of the circular economy strive to minimize the consumption of raw materials required for production. They also optimize resources’ life cycles through effective recycling measures. With this, the e-waste generation can be substantially reduced if not eradicated.

Mobile technology companies must be mindful not to over-extract virgin materials. Wherein, the traditional linear economy model has allowed mass production to proliferate, leading to resource scarcity. However, much is still yet to be done to better understand the 3Rs and to achieve a closed-loop system. Said system enables the mobile technology industry to go green.

Reducing

By reducing the amount of extracted resources, mobile technology manufacturers alleviate concerns about resource scarcity and ensure the long-term sustainability of their industry’s operations.

But to achieve this is no easy feat. Reducing the need for extraction of virgin materials is a complex process. This involves a calculated overhaul of existing production processes and a rethinking of product design. Moreover, it will render the adoption of greener manufacturing practices.

Meanwhile, Accenture Strategy’s research indicates that by 2030, the circular economy could offer a staggering $4.5 trillion in economic benefits by reducing waste. I and creating new jobs. As per the report, this transition can help address resource scarcity through the conservation of resources “while driving greater competitiveness.”

Reusing

The second ‘R’, reuse, is just as important. Unfortunately, many of today’s electronic products are leans toward ‘planned obsolescence’ in mind, making them quickly replaceable.

In 2018, the Shanghai Consumer Council received 2,000+ complaints about Apple products. Such led the California-based company to address concerns regarding iPhone slowdowns. For years, the tech giant has been accused of deliberately slowing down older iPhone models.
France has also initiated an investigation this year into Apple’s alleged planned obsolescence, claiming that the company restricts mobile phone repairs. The Halt Planned Obsolescence Association called on Apple to “guarantee the right to repair devices under the logic of real circular economy.”

Recycling

The third ‘R’ involves converting e-waste materials into new products, promoting better resource conservation, and minimizing e-waste generation. 

Several tech companies have launched initiatives to promote smartphone sustainability, designed to extend the life of electronic devices. Major industry players like Apple and Samsung have introduced trade-in programs. This enables the consumers to purchase new phones at discounted prices in exchange for their old smartphones.

But, purchasing a brand-new electronic device often appears more convenient than recycling, driven by factors including inadequate recycling infrastructure, planned obsolescence, and a general lack of consumer awareness.

While recycling initiatives have been implemented by mobile technology companies for years, the amount of e-waste generated daily calls for a re-evaluation of how mobile technology products are created right from inception.

The game-changer

Embracing the principles of the 3Rs within a circular economy empowers mobile technology manufacturers to create durable products, capitalizing on the wave of sustainable consumption and ultimately boosting revenue.

In fact, the International Labour Organization projected that this transition could create as many as 6 million new jobs. Moreover, the mobile industry is shifting toward a more sustainable economic model, other sectors like recycling, repair, and rental services could reap significant benefits. 

Undoubtedly, the concept of a circular economy and its core principles, the 3Rs, prove to be the most effective path in pursuing a greener future for the mobile industry.  However, its successful implementation entails a significant change in how we treat our finite resources and the active engagement of companies, governments, and consumers. 

In the end, there is always an opportunity to improve resource management in the mobile industry, yet the optimal approach is to go green.