Thanks to the overconsumption of Earth’s finite supplies, estimates suggest we’ll need two planets’ resources by 2030. As a result, conquering environmental waste is no longer optional — it’s a fundamental economic and societal priority.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the rapidly expanding electronics sector is under scrutiny for its heavy carbon footprint.
Consumer demand for new electronics is constantly increasing, and the impact of electronics manufacturing on the environment is rising alongside it. The contribution of digital technologies alone is estimated to create up to 5.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with unrecycled packaging, supply chains and inefficient factories creating vast amounts of waste.
Of course, legislation such as the WEEE (waste from electrical and electronic equipment) directive aims to reduce the volume of materials that are incinerated or sent to landfill sites.
But manufacturers must go beyond mandatory action to realise the circular economy, which seeks to cut waste and resource demands by sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling materials and products for as long as possible.
So, what can individual electronics manufacturers do to win the war against waste?
Ensure proper electronic waste disposal
Did you know that in 2023, the amount of unrecycled electronic waste (e-waste) has reached over 347 million metric tonnes?
We’re more dependent on devices than ever, yet currently, the electronics industry follows a linear ‘take, make and dispose’ plan. This model involves raw materials being transformed into products until they’re eventually discarded — causing finite energy and resources to be wasted and generating vast amounts of toxic chemicals.
Tackling this issue will take a village. Still, individual manufacturers can ensure they shoulder responsibility for their own e-waste contributions…
Increasing the lifespan expectancy of electronic devices by 50% to 100% can mitigate up to half of the total greenhouse gas emissions. So, rather than relying on landfills and incinerators, manufacturers should aim to incorporate repair, refurbishment and reuse in their operations.
Supporting e-waste recycling policies will help the electronics industry move closer to a circular economy and handle resources more responsibly.
Use renewable energy sources
Manufacturers can promote sustainable practices by investing in renewable energy sources — such as solar or wind power — in factories.
An emerging source of fuel for the electronics industry is green hydrogen, which many sectors are exploring. Generated by the electrolysis of water using renewable energy derived from solar and wind power, green hydrogen aims to replace existing fossil fuel feedstock.
Another new technology is the liquid air energy storage (LAES) solution. Although it’s still relatively new, LAES has great potential for the future, used to store vast amounts of surplus energy from renewable sources and produce a longer-lasting and more powerful output.
Electronics manufacturers worldwide are becoming interested in advancing this system’s use and embracing other green power sources to work towards net-zero targets for carbon emissions.
Adopt environmentally friendly packaging
So many of the digital devices we purchase today are packaged with excessive plastic wrapping and unnecessary cords. Not only does this packaging contribute to waste, but it could also be a major turn-off for today’s consumers…
In a 2020 study, 74% of consumers preferred sustainable packaging and were willing to pay more for it. Thankfully, new developments in eco-friendly packaging are helping electronics manufacturers incorporate green designs into their wrapping solutions.
For example, moulded fibre has emerged as a popular recyclable and biodegradable packaging alternative. Made from bamboo, sugarcane and other fast-growing fibres sourced from responsible suppliers, moulded fibre is a shock-proof and pressure and moisture-resistant material.
Cornstarch-based foam has also become a sustainable packaging alternative. It can be created in bespoke shapes to protect any type of product in shipment and is disposed of by composting it or dissolving it in water.
Develop a more transparent supply chain
Given the resource-intensive nature of electronics manufacturing, improving supply chain visibility at every stage is crucial to limiting environmental waste and championing more sustainable manufacturing processes.
For electronics manufacturers, this means understanding the impact of e-waste, setting (and achieving) goals with partners and customers and leveraging technology and data to create and maintain eco-friendly supply chains.
Monitoring how long each device lasts before it needs replacing, choosing green suppliers and reducing the carbon emissions involved in transporting goods can help significantly lower environmental impact — and ensure consistency in today’s volatile economy.
How EMS is tackling the task at hand
Addressing environmental waste and its impact on the climate change crisis is no small feat — and EMS realises it has a part to play, too.
EMS is working to take the necessary steps to protect our planet from waste — recycling supplies wherever we can, raising employee awareness around poor resource and energy usage and ensuring hazardous materials are disposed of correctly. And to demonstrate our commitment further, we’re currently carrying out gap analysis in our quality management system to see what we need to do so we can become ISO 14001 certified…
The ISO 14001 standard maps out a framework we can follow for an effective environmental management system and will show that EMS’ environmental impact is being measured and improved.
Taking these steps is crucial in today’s world, where every manufacturer carries the weight of environmental waste with every product.
How will you begin to lighten the burden?
EMS is a sustainable electronics manufacturer committed to protecting the environment through fulfilling our compliance obligations, preventing pollution and managing all waste. Learn more about our sustainability goals or contact us at 01635 588 870 for more information.