The modern society has a waste problem. Global economy churns out about 70 billion tons of trash every year, far more than can be properly processed or recycled. This leads to environmental disasters like plastic trash drifted into rivers and oceans, toxic and hazardous materials leaching into the groundwater from electronics and electrical components disposed of in landfills.
The vision of circular economy where resources are used sparingly, products are designed to recycle materials endlessly. The vision of a circular economy replaces the end-of-life concept, all products are broken down and made into new products – it is designed to eliminate all waste. As in nature, waste does not exist.
The limits of linear consumption
Every year more than 100 billion tons of finite (fossil fuel, ore, minerals) and renewable (biomass) resources extracted from Earth are used to manufacture products for human needs – a linear model in which goods are manufactured from raw materials, sold, consumed and then discarded as waste. As the populations grow and urbanise, and resource extraction costs continue to rise, the risk to supply security and safety associated with the established global supply chains appears to be increasing.
Against this backdrop, many businesses have begun to notice that the linear system increases their exposure to higher resource prices and supply disruption risks. The linear model of production and consumption is reaching its limits, the call for a new economic model is getting louder.
Closing the circle
A circular economy aims to replace the end-of-life concept with restoration and shift the economic balance away from energy-intensive materials and primary extraction. It would create a new sector dedicated to reusing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, or recycling. Economies will not only benefit from substantial net material savings but also be the drivers for innovation, job creation and economic growth. The economic benefit of transitioning to this new circular business model is estimated to be worth more than a trillion-dollar in material savings.
E-waste recycling – An opportunity worth millions
Over 40 million tonnes e-waste is generated in a year around the world. Only about 20% of all electronic waste is collected and recycled, according to the UN report. The other 80% containing billions of dollars’ worth of precious metals like gold, silver and platinum is either disposed of without processing in landfills or recycled under uncontrolled conditions. 95% of the discarded electronics and electrical components can be fully recycled, disposal without processing is a huge missed opportunity to recover and reuse valuable resources.
E-waste is also the fastest-growing contributor to the municipal solid waste stream in Australia. Country’s e-waste is likely to increase more than 60% by the year 2024. Total Green Recycling is playing a vital role by stopping the flow of e-waste into the landfill. In addition to recycling, the company repairs and refurbishes pre-owned electronic devices supporting the circular economy of technology that involves multiple generational use per device.
While the circular economy concept has clearly emerged from the shadows as a ‘niche’ approach, building a circular economy will require an enormous cultural shift, something on the scale of the industrial evolution. Given its potential value, however, the circular economy has only begun to scratch the surface.