Thursday, May 23, 2024

How Circular Supply Chains are Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing

(1) Experts are beginning to apply the circular process to sustainability and environmentalism

(2) It is estimated almost 90% of the world’s consumer electronics are made in Shenzhen.

by Likam Kyanzaire

A new concept has been festering in the public consciousness for a few years now. Experts are beginning to apply the circular process to sustainability and environmentalism in order to address climate change in an economically practical way. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a circular economy refers to a model that:

“Reduces material use, redesigns materials to be less resource intensive, and recaptures “waste” as a resource to manufacture new materials and products. In almost every industry a circular process could help save resources that can be used elsewhere, and save people money. But nowhere is the circular supply chain more useful than in our consumer electronics industry. As a large producer of toxic waste electronics are hazardous when thrown in landfills. If companies and people can engage in a circular electronics market we can save the planet and our wallets.

How Circular Supply Chains are Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing

Resource Exploitation in Canada

According to USA Today, in 2017 Canada had the highest overall waste production per capita in the world at just above 36 tons per person. For reference, in the same year, the US total was in 3rd place with 25.8 tons per capita. Canada dumped 147 million metric tons of e-waste in all of 2016. As a country of only 33 million that makes Canada one of the worst e-waste polluters in per capita terms.

While Canada does not manufacture electronics the large country does mine many of the resources that go into electric components like copper, gold and aluminum. As a major resource exporter, Canada produces large amounts of greenhouse gases. Removing those resources from discarded products and putting them into new products will reduce the need for constant extraction, popular in northern Ontario. 

With the help of corporations and top-tier universities, new initiatives can recycle electronic parts and reuse products. This was done in 2018 when Apple introduced Daisy, a robot capable of disassembling up to 200 iPhones an hour to recover valuable materials such as cobalt, tin, and aluminum for use in brand-new phone components.

Bringing discarded electric parts back into the economy through a circular supply chain can help Canada cut its carbon footprint and save valuable resources like water and land.

Shenzhen, the Circular City

Over the years, Shenzhen has become China, and the world’s, technology one-stop shop. It is estimated almost 90% of the world’s consumer electronics are made in Shenzhen. The Chinese city is home to big companies like DSI and Tencent, both of which are Chinese-owned companies that work with the government to improve their own circular supply chain.

The importation of e-wastes from developed countries to China was about 1.5 million tons in 2001. Due to adverse health and environmental effects, the government declared it was no longer willing to accept foreign garbage in January 2018. But thanks to the built-out e-waste recycling system, cities like Shenzhen are able to handle their growing domestic e-waste.

Since 2017 the World Economic Forum has worked with partners to launch and deliver a multi-stakeholder project, Circular Electronics in China. The project was formed as a collaboration platform between industry, government, and academia to reach the Chinese government’s ambitious circular economy targets of recycling 50% of e-waste by 2025 and including 20% of recycled content in new products. Shenzhen, with its localization of industry, academia, technology, and recyclers, is a leading space for innovators to find new solutions

While China is currently leading the world in applying circular process solutions, there are many initiatives that are trying to bring a more circular economy to our society.

A Circular Society

How Circular Supply Chains are Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing

In a past article, we mentioned how one engineer from Kenya repurposed thrown-away plastic to make bricks in her community. Innovators like her are part of a growing circular economy that is growing from a community-led ecological approach. Together with community groups, governments and businesses society can transform into a more equitable place. Not only will circular initiatives save consumers, but they will grow the economy while allowing anyone to work with technology.

If circular recyclers are localized like they are in Shenzhen then electronics manufacturing, assembly and storage can happen anywhere instead of in countries like China and Vietnam. These realigned supply chains will be more flexible because they will rely less on global inputs, instead being a more self-reinforcing supply chain where one man’s trash becomes another man’s treasure.