Is the Circular Economy the Solution to the Climate Crisis?

Our Current Situation

The climate crisis is an ever-looming threat to our society and tackling climate change has become a global priority. The UN has now set key Sustainable Development Goals while the UK government have set out a 25-year climate change plan.  Developing more sustainable life-cycle management for our products has therefore become a key concern as material management is expected to account for two thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 if we continue with current manufacturing and waste management practices[1]. Sustainable Development Goal 12 focuses on sustainable production and re-manufacturing.

According to recent studies, manufacturing processes currently account for over 45% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide[2].  This colossal figure encompasses every stage of the manufacturing process, from the energy used in natural resource mining to the carbon emissions of industrial factories.  However, the circular economy offers a key solution for tackling these emissions.  By re-using materials which are already in the economy, through refurbishment and re-manufacturing practices, the carbon footprint from manufacturing can be cut in half.  This is because these processes preserve what is known as ‘embedded energy’.  This is the energy that was required for the initial manufacturing process. By reusing these components, we are able to avoid the emissions required to manufacture from scratch.  Therefore, the material footprint of refurbished products is much lower than of new products.

The environmental savings from reducing the material footprint by reusing and recycling products are expected to total 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year[3].  Thus, prioritising the circular economy is the quickest and easiest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing.  An investment in the circular economy does not only benefit the environment, but also has significant economic outcomes as well.  The economic benefits of a more circular economy are evident, with current estimations finding that an increase in the use of refurbishment and recycling processes would result in £57.3 billion being added to the UK’s GDP while creating 330,000 jobs within the sector[4].

Why does WEEE Recycling Matter?

The UK has a growing mountain of electronic and electrical waste which it needs to tackle to effectively lower its carbon footprint. Currently, waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE) is one of the fastest growing waste streams in Europe and is therefore a key priority in the UK.  Electronic waste has grown 38% worldwide from 2010 to 2019 with little being done to curb this growth[5].  This means that the material footprint of the electrical manufacturing industry is quickly snowballing into a much bigger problem.  It is therefore the responsibility of both businesses and consumers alike to shrink the material footprint of their electrical purchases. It is imperative that we all participate in the circular economy, through structured, efficient waste management streams.

Ultimately, the circular economy is an effective short-term solution to the climate crisis, but it is not enough to fully eradicate the current climate crisis.  However, by taking greater care throughout the life-cycle of our electronics and electrical products, from initial manufacturing to end-of-life disposal, the carbon footprint of these products can be dramatically lowered.

Re-Tek are able to refurbish over 90% of the equipment that we receive and almost everything that we cannot refurbish is recycled in line with the WEEE recycling directive, with less than 1% of materials going to landfill.  Powered by a 50kW solar panel array as well as a 60kW biomass boiler, Re-Tek are able to drastically lower the carbon footprint of waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE) while providing financial incentives to our partners.

[1] OECD – The Circular Economy in Towns and Cities

[2] Ellen MacArthur Foundation -How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change 

[3] As Above

[4] WRAP – Net Zero: Why Resource Efficiency Holds the Answers 

[5] United Nations Sustainable Development Goals