An alarming rise in E-waste volumes due to the explosive growth in consumption of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is forcing manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to explore new business models. This has brought circular electronics under the spotlight wherein manufacturers focus on developing and promoting the use of recycled and refurbished electrical and electronic products. Governments also play an instrumental role in effectively and efficiently managing E-waste by way of framing policies such as extended producer responsibility (EPR). Traditional methods of handling (manual), sorting, burning, and incineration of E-waste need to be replaced with advanced technologies such as automation, robotics, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Of the 53.5 MMt of E-waste generated in 2020, 78.0% remains uncollected and undocumented, raising concerns on human and environmental safety. In addition to factors such as improved standard of living, rise in disposable income, urbanization and industrialization, development and access to low-cost products, coupled with shorter product lifecycles, are factors contributing to mounting E-waste volumes. As we move towards a new era of digitalization and IIoT with increased dependency on electronic devices and connectivity, stakeholders across the value chain should focus mainly on reusing and recovering resources as well as ensure environmental safety.

The global WEEE recycling market was estimated at $3,854.5 million in 2020 witnessing a year-on-year growth of 3.7%. A rise in environmental awareness and commitment from leading technology giants and electronic manufacturers towards adopting sustainable production and supply chain practices supported the growth of recyclers in the year. This trend is expected to continue over the next 5 years as enterprises across various EEE product segments include circular electronics as part of their vision and future strategy.

The top 5 trends Frost & Sullivan is witnessing in 2021 related to environment and sustainability will both shape and transform growth and innovation prospects for the cross section of stakeholders.

  1. Growth of IT Asset Disposal (ITAD) Services

Investments in IT infrastructure management have increased multi-fold for over a decade now. These IT assets raise a concern as they reach their end of life and require efficient recycling and recovery methods. Erasing all data with software programs such as data erasure qualifies the IT asset to be reused by the same enterprise for its business operations or secondary use. Alternatively, these assets can be refurbished and sold as second-hand hardware in the market. This approach offers the twin benefit of (i) remaining compliant with data regulations with no trace of old data and (ii) implementing circular IT where assets are reused, recycled, and refurbished. As more enterprises move from on-premise to cloud-based data centers, ITAD programs become essential for the management of hyper-scale data centers set up by leading technology giants across the globe.

  1. Incorporating Digital Passport to Products & Materials

An efficient ‘track & trace’ feature from the time of product manufacture to its consumption and disposal will offer better visibility and/or complement the efforts of manufacturers, recyclers, and governments in tackling E-waste. Digital passport provides sets of data with characteristics of materials and components of electronic products and systems as well as recycling procedures enabling efficient use, as well as recovery, recycling and reuse at the end-of-life.  Digital passport, such as digital twin (a virtual representation of the real-time product or process) is set to strongly contribute to the circular economy of EEE in the years ahead.

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Author: Fredrick Royan, Frost & Sullivan
Image: Frost & Sullivan