This month the EU announced an ambitious new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) to combat the scourge of e-waste. The plan, which has been created to help meet the EU’s aims of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, target the 50 million tonnes of e-waste that Europeans produce each year, including phones, laptops, tablets, and many more.
The primary goal of the CEAP is to ensure that all electronic products sold within the EU are designed and manufactured in a way that allows them to be easily repaired in cases of malfunction, or if parts need to be replaced due to age. It will also take on ‘premature obsolescence’ by limiting companies’ abilities to force customers to upgrade to newer models.
The regulations will mean major changes in the way that many devices are manufactured. For example, in order to make their devices as compact as possible, many mobile phone manufacturers use adhesives in the assembly process. This can make repairs extremely difficult and expensive, encouraging people to junk their current model instead of getting it repaired. Under the CEAP, firms will be expected to find alternative solutions that allow parts to be easily swapped in and out, as well as substantially increasing the amount of recycled materials used in the manufacturing process.
As things stand, the CEAP is just a plan and there are no new regulations or obligations on manufacturers. However, many will still look to plan ahead by starting the transition towards a more circular model now, rather than waiting until they are legally required to do so, at which point they may be playing catch up to more nimble competitors.
Yet adopting a whole new manufacturing model is never a straight-forward process. Companies will need to re-evaluate almost every aspect of their production processes and suppliers. Such changes can create confusion and an increased chance of errors creeping in – especially if new legislation in brought in that mandates certain changes in which materials can and can’t be used.
As a result, we can expect to see a larger-than-usual number of electronics recalls in the coming years. Responsible executives need to make sure they’re prepared for this and have a plan in place should the unexpected occur.