Electronics are a critical part of our lives and even more so in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, however, too many electronics wind up in the environment, are recycled in unsafe conditions or are stored away in households. Yet these products contain valuable raw materials, many of which are not recovered, while opportunities for product life extension, repair and re-use are also not fully captured.
Circular strategies have become a priority for many companies and consumers. Typically, though, these strategies will rely on reverse supply chains and these are not always supported by current regulatory environments. This briefing note presents insights from a series of dialogues, a survey and interviews on the challenges in reverse supply chains for electronics. These are centred on complexities of product classifications, related factors leading to significant increases in the costs of reverse logistics for used products and those characterized as hazardous versus outbound logistics for new products, and cumbersome trade‑permitting processes, particularly for products classified as hazardous.
The paper concludes with ideas to facilitate safe, responsible trade for a circular economy in electronics that would be consistent and complementary with existing international environmental treaties. These ideas are at an early stage and in need of further reflection. The World Economic Forum’s community will continue to support knowledge exchange in order to identify targeted actions in this area.