The Circular Economy is an idea that has been steadily gaining ground over the past few years. Surging population growth and a growing global middle class have fueled an increasing demand for goods that is rapidly depleting the world’s limited supply of natural resources. Our current economic model of “take, make, use and throw away” is not sustainable – which has given rise to a new model that is redefining how we think of “waste” and changing the way products and materials are managed throughout their life cycle. In short, the Circular Economy is a zero-waste economy that extracts the maximum value and use from all products and materials.
A recent study by Accenture concluded that “the circular economy has the potential to become a trillion-dollar opportunity globally in the near future.” Governments and corporations increasingly recognize the environmental and economic benefits of a more circular economy. The European Commission recently adopted an ambitious new Circular Economy Package to help businesses and consumers make the transition to a stronger and more circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way. A growing number of multinational corporations have followed suit.
The fundamental principles of the circular economy have much in common with the principles that have shaped the R2 Standard.
Some of the shared outcomes of the R2 Standard and a circular economy:
- Extending the useful life of products by promoting responsible repair and reuse. Reuse is by far the most environmentally and economically beneficial option for used products. The R2 Standard requires testing, repair, and reuse of electronic devices whenever possible.
- Harvesting of reusable parts and components is the best option for devices that no longer have reuse potential in their original, whole form. Harvested parts can be used not only for repair, but also for manufacturing completely different products.
- Viewing recyclable material derived from electronics as a valuable resource rather than as “e-waste.” According to a report published by the United Nations University, used electronics are a 40-50 times richer source of rare and precious metals than newly mined ore. Because of their value—and the risk they can pose to the environment and human health—landfilling is not a safe or sustainable solution for these materials. For end of life products and materials, the R2 Standard and the Circular Economy require maximum materials recovery. This preserves resources, reducing the need and the negative environmental impacts of mining for new materials.
Smarter use of resources – with an emphasis on reuse – will be become increasingly important as the population and demand for new products continues to grow. Dr. Katharina Kummer Peiry, former Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention for the United Nations Environmental Program, had this to say on the subject: “The R2 Standard’s emphasis on reuse, and on resource management over “waste” management, has become increasingly important as electronic use around the world – particularly in Asia and Africa – continues to rapidly increase and deplete limited supplies of natural resources…In this area, the R2 program is leading the way.”
The mission of SERI, the organization that administers the R2 program, is two-fold. First and foremost, to continue improving how used electronics are managed by promoting certification for electronics refurbishers and recyclers. In the eight years since the R2 Standard was introduced, the management of used electronics has significantly improved. Third party audits, more transparency and more downstream accountability have raised the bar when it comes to protecting the environment and the health and safety of workers and communities.
In addition to administration of the R2 Standard, SERI is in the initial stages of developing a series of short training videos to help small recyclers in emerging markets learn safer and more sustainable methods for repair and recycling of electronics. SERI also has plans to work with small collectors and recyclers to focus their efforts on safe collection and light disassembly, and to encourage their partnership with more technologically advanced facilities for further processing to maximize the recovery of materials. This protects the health and safety of workers and the environment, while at the same time, providing cleaner streams of material which means a better economic outcome for both parties.
Smarter and more responsible management of materials is essential for sustaining the ever-increasing demand for new products. SERI and the R2 Standard are helping the electronics repair and recycling industry make the transition to the new circular economy, thereby helping close the gap between the world’s supply and demand for limited resources.