E-waste: how emerging markets can leapfrog to circular economy

Main photo: Ghanaians working in Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana. Source: Marlenenapoli, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The circular economy is more than a buzzword – it is the new economic model supported by the European Union in its policies and adopted by many big, innovative companies all over the globe. 

To support this new economic model is one thing, putting it to practice is another. What should we do with used IT equipment? What does this look like on a large scale? What is circular IT? What is refurbished IT and what is the difference between recycling and reuse?

E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream globally. India’s e-waste is growing by 30% annually, for example. Many other developing countries face the same problem with the growing waste stream from their own domestic consumption but also from e-waste being imported from abroad.

According to Wikipedia, India is the 5th largest electronic waste producer in the world with approximately 2 million tons of e-waste being generated annually plus an undisclosed amount of e-waste coming from other countries around the world.

India is the 5th largest electronic waste producer in the world


Most of India’s e-waste is from computer devices (70%), telecoms (12%), medical equipment (8%) and from electric equipment (7%). The government, public sector companies, and private sector companies generate nearly 75% of electronic waste, with the contribution of individual households being only 16%.

We need to move from recycling to reuse to make sure that the stream of e-waste slows down while we maximise its value. Around 80% of the CO2 emissions comes from production. There is a leapfrog possibility for countries to adopt circular principles, laws and regulations. 

When we go from waste streams to income streams, the circular transitions can help emerging markets to grow sustainably. In the past, we have seen outsourcing of jobs and, to some extent, there is talk about backsourcing. The most exciting question is about the jobs that will be created going from a linear towards a circular economy. The linear economy is resource intensive while the circular is labor intensive. 

The circular economy will provide new opportunities for value-creating and for jobs. Together, we can capture the value that is lost today and also create a better and more inclusive economy.

Author: Sebastian Holmström, Circular Strategy Lead of Inrego – a company specialized in recycling and re-using of electronic waste (e-waste). 

Ana Paula Picasso interviewed Sebastian Holmström for the Emerging Markets Today podcast. They talked about the impact of e-waste in developing countries, and how emerging markets can leapfrog from a linear economy to a more sustainable and circular economy with their electronics consumption.

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