Sustainability is an issue concerning both businesses and consumers. People want to buy socially responsible and environmentally friendly goods, and companies want to produce them. The idea of sustainable goods points to consuming less and, therefore, manufacturing less. However, implementing a circular economy model in your business can create multiple sales routes from one item. Unfortunately, the problem for many is figuring out how to do this. 

Circular economy

So, what is a circular economy? It’s a model that aims to limit waste by turning it into a resource. This means reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling materials for as long as possible. The Circularity Gap, a recent report by Deloitte and Circle Economy Foundation, found that over 90% of the UK’s material use comes from virgin sources, with 80% of these materials extracted abroad. What’s more, only 7.5% of materials circle back into the UK economy after use. 

One company taking circularity seriously is Fairphone. Since 2013, they have been on a mission to craft the world’s most ethical phone. Their key impact areas are longevity, e-waste, fair materials and fair factories. By establishing a circular economy, they avoided 15 tons of e-waste in 2022 using two different strategies:

A) Reducing resource use (and future e-waste) through the longevity of their phones (5.4 tons).

B) Removing 9.6 tons of e-waste through responsible recycling and take-back/collection programs (Fairphone 2022 Impact Report).

Circularity is built into Fairphone’s business model. It offers free and public repair information, printed circuit board schemes for board-level repairs and affordable spare parts. It also incentivises the return of old devices to refurbish and reuse or recycle. The success of their products continues to grow. 2022 saw the company’s third consecutive year in profit, increasing its revenue by 62% compared to 2021. 

Right to Repair

The UK introduced Right to Repair regulations in 2021 to increase producer responsibility, reduce waste and enable consumers to identify energy-efficient products on the market easily. These regulations include:

  • Appliances must be designed so they can be dismantled using conventional tools.
  • Manufacturers of washing machines, washer-dryers, dishwashers, televisions and fridges are legally required to provide customers with spare parts for simple repairs. Manufacturers must also make parts available for more challenging repairs that professionals can carry out.
  • Spare parts must remain available for either seven or ten years after the product has been discontinued, depending on the part.

While this is a step in the right direction, there is no limit to what manufacturers can charge for spare parts, so it might cost more for consumers to repair than replace. As well as this, the law only covers limited products. Devices like smartphones and laptops which are more prone to damage and subsequent replacement, are not included. 

So what is being done? To combat this waste problem, the Right to Repair Europe coalition is advocating for repairs to be affordable, accessible and mainstream. By targeting legislative change, they aim to ensure that businesses and manufacturers are forced to create products that can be repaired easily and affordably. 

Benefits

Currently, WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) requirements demand that distributors must offer free takeback on WEEE, retain a record of all WEEE taken back for at least four years, and provide customers with access to written information on the service provided and what they should do with their waste. Rather than regarding WEEE as a liability, businesses should approach it as a resource stream:

  • By using appropriate materials, e.g. plastics that can be shredded or remoulded after their first use, input costs for new products can be reduced. 
  • Why destroy electronic components? Rebuild them into a new product! Circuit design usually has a longer life than product design. For example, Arduino microcontrollers run on chips from the early nineties and can still fulfil requirements for new technology such as IoT. 
  • Out-of-date software is a common reason for goods becoming unusable. To combat this, the product could be reflashed with new/updated software, which allows manufacturers to retain original materials. 

To maximise the benefits of a circular economy, it’s crucial to implement it into your business model as early as possible. For example, you can’t update software on a device that hasn’t been designed to be disassembled and reassembled or lacks the hardware to handle an upgrade. These design choices have to be made at the start of the process. Then, you can begin to think about your future sales routes. If you build a product you can refurbish three or four times, you’re creating multiple sales opportunities while only using the materials of one product. 

Ready to reduce your waste stream?

The Circularity Gap report estimates that remanufacturing, repair and reuse activities could create over 450,000 new UK jobs by 2035, helping to offset job losses generated by offshoring and automation. In fact, the market value of manufacturing in the EU could reach £25.5 billion by 2030.

DefProc has over ten years of experience as an innovation partner. Our clients are spread across various industries, such as utilities, healthcare and the environment. We offer end-to-end services, supporting clients from their initial project scoping through to passing regulatory testing. Adopting a circular economy is a cost-effective model to reduce waste and ensure that your products are durable and reliable. 

Take a step towards making your products more sustainable. Get in touch with us today or read one of our case studies.