Materials

Tackling ‘shoddy’ electronics can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions

A new report produced by Green Alliance highlights the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by tackling the sale of electronics that do not meet ecodesign standards.

Design for a circular economy looks at the composition of the estimated 727,000 tonnes of e-waste that is not recycled in the UK each year. The report cites data that Britons each generate 23.9 kg of e-waste a year, the second largest amount in the world.

WEEEWhile the report praises ‘push and pull’ measures developed by the EU – ecodesign standards, which ‘push’ the least efficient products off the market, and energy labelling, which ‘pulls’ consumers towards more efficient ones – it also highlights the poor market surveillance that means these standards are often not implemented in the UK, with the country said to be emitting 800,000 tonnes of CO2 per year due to substandard products.

Smartphones are highlighted as one of the main contributors to this statistic, with the average smartphone only designed to last two to three years and the devices being very energy-intensive to manufacture.

The report draws on research carried out by PwC, which found on average 6.5kg of mined ore is required to make a 75g smartphone and 60kg of CO2 equivalent is generated in the manufacturing process. It reveals that if a smartphone is kept in use for five years or longer, the carbon impact of year per use could be cut by 50 per cent.

Among the recommendations for how manufacturers and government could contribute to greater resource efficiency for electronic products are prioritising the longevity, durability and upgradeability of products, better reporting of recycled content and introducing ‘product passports’ to track individual products’ environmental footprint, repair information and hazardous substances.

The report also recommends that energy labelling indicates the expected running costs over the year or lifetime of a product, in order to make labels meaningful to consumers and to present a ‘more rounded account of material impact’, empowering consumers to make energy and cost-efficient choices.

The report’s author, Libby Peake, Head of Resource Policy at Green Alliance, said: "Even before the pandemic, people were frustrated by products that didn't last. At a time when many are experiencing financial difficulties and are becoming more dependent on electronic devices to communicate with family and friends, this couldn't be more urgent.

“The last thing we want to see this Christmas is consumers being ripped off with shoddy products because the government is not doing enough to ensure better design and protect people."