Did you know that the world is expected to produce more than 50 million tons of e-waste this year? And of that, less than 20% is properly recycled, according to the latest statistics, sending huge amounts to landfill.
Gadgets play a big role in this. Just consider that 5.3 billion smartphones are expected to be thrown away in 2022.
But here’s the good news: Gadgets will become more sustainable in 2023, and it’s all thanks to the emerging trend of circularity.
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“In key markets like Europe, consumers are looking for more durable, long-lasting products,” Stanton Thomas, senior vice president, sustainability solutions at o9 Solutions, told TNW.
More durable products are likely to result in fewer sales over time due to “lower replacement rates”. Manufacturers must take this into account in their business models, as these types of economic trade-offs – Stanton explained – are likely to mark “the transition to a sustainable, circular economy”.
According to Matthew Cockerill – an innovation consultant – manufacturers are already focusing on making their engineered products last longer. There are three reasons for this: pressure from stakeholders, changes in consumer behavior and new right-to-repair laws in Europe.
As Cockerill noted, this explains Samsung and Google’s partnership with iFixit to supply replacement parts and Apple’s introduction of the Self Service Repair Store for its products.
“In the future, these forces will begin to shape the very architecture of our technology products and how they are sold, maintained and innovated, while also changing how we think about some of our established technology products,” he told TNW.
As a result, he believes, some of “our established tech products” become “classic products” that retain their “validity” and “desirability” for up to ten years – instead of being disposed of or prematurely recycled.
As we get further into the next year, we’ll see these kinds of programs pop up as companies try to make their devices last as long as possible.
But besides durability and repair, there is another big trend that will make gadgets more sustainable in 2023.
The opportunity in renovation
“Reselling equipment to Refurbishers extends the life of the technology as it can then be professionally repaired and resold,” Thibaud Hug de Larauze, CEO and co-founder of Back Market – a Paris-based marketplace for refurbished equipment – told TNW. Because “recycling is not yet far enough” to save all parts of a device.
In fact, consumer interest in refurbished devices is growing. A recent survey conducted by Keany found that 28% of more than 5,000 consumers in Europe and North America would choose a high quality refurbished product over an inferior brand new product. And the global electronics remanufacturing market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 12.1% between 2022 and 2031.
The motto of the French Revolution from a “renovated” perspective. Credit: Back Market
But while startups like Back Market and Swappie are among those currently leading the transition, major tech makers are expected to follow suit.
Until now, a mindset focused on constant updates, new launches and making profit has held such companies back, explained de Larauze. But that is changing.
“As the climate crisis lingers, we’re starting to see big players investing more in renovation as sustainability becomes a lynchpin for success,” he noted.
Making gadgets more sustainable in 2023 through remanufacturing
Remanufacturing aside, Peter Bragg – Canon’s EMEA Sustainability & Government Affairs Director – believes that remanufacturing is the ‘missing link’ in circular economy practices.
While there’s a rising trend toward refurbished tech products, consumers are hesitant because of expectations of optimal performance and the simple feeling of wanting something “new and shiny,” he told TNW. And this is where reprocessing comes into play.
Remanufacturing preserves as much of the old device as possible and rebuilds it to work as a new product, Bragg explained. It’s an improvement over the refurbishment “through its focus on performance and extensive testing, ensuring consumers are getting an essentially new product, rather than simply extending the life of an existing one.”
In this way, it can also meet consumer demand for new, high-quality products while reducing their environmental impact.
Nevertheless, the responsibility for more sustainable gadgets also lies with the users. And the ways to help limit the amount of e-waste are simple: think about used products, invest in long-lasting products, and take care of your device so you can keep it longer.
Imagine if by extending the lifespan of our smartphones by a single year we would save as much CO2 emissions in Europe as if we took two million cars off the road every year.
And hopefully we can make our gadgets more sustainable in 2023 as companies make longer-lasting devices, recycling increases, and there’s a renewed focus on recycling.
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