Reusability and the potential environmental impact of small electronics - Literature review and discussion

Unused electronics kept in stocks represent a delayed or lost opportunity for reuse or remanufacturing. The reuse potential depends on the remaining physical durability and perceived or factual technological obsolescence. The greatest potential for reuse is when the products are still within their designed lifetimes, thus products should be sent to second life as soon as they are no longer in use.

An extension of lifetimes of small electronics through domestic reuse could bring clear environmental (especially climate) benefits in comparison to recycling, incineration, or stockpiling. 

About 8,000 t of small electronics annually enter incineration together with mixed household waste. Environmental and economic benefits could be attained if a more effective waste management system would divert WEEE flows towards material recycling and especially - reuse. The magnitude and nature of the benefits depend on the quantity of collected electronics, composition, and the effectiveness and the efficiency of sorting and recycling. 

Drawing definite conclusions about the impacts of increased collection and current recycling vs keeping WEEE in stocks is difficult as it depends on future households’ behaviour, the efficiency of e-waste management as well strategies governing re-valorisation of WEEE.

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Last updated: 2021-06-28

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

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IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has a wide environmental profile. We combine applied research and development with close collaboration between industry and the public sphere. Our consultancy is evidence-based, and our research is characterized by interdisciplinary science and system thinking.


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