Designing tech for a sustainable future
The Australian technology sector is a global leader in many rights. While we’ve made our mark on the world stage as rapid adopters of new technologies, as innovators and as digital educators, many of us fail to realise that Australia is one of the highest contributors of e-waste globally.
E-waste — or discarded electricals or electronic devices — is currently the world’s fastest growing waste stream, accumulating more than 53 million tonnes globally in 2019. Australia accumulates 21.7 kg of this e-waste per capita, surpassing the United States at 21 kg per capita and almost rivalling that of the United Kingdom at 23.9 kg per capita.1
Containing non-renewable materials like tin, copper, gold and plastic, e-waste is an unsustainable environmental hazard. With some e-waste unable to be recycled, we see increased reliance on landfills and increased greenhouse gas emissions with the materials needing to be mined, processed, transported and inserted into new devices.
A report on e-waste from the United Nations (UN) in 2019 found that if nothing changes in the management of e-waste globally, the volume of this waste will quickly double across the world.
While the current Australian Government has introduced recycling initiatives like the full waste export ban on plastic, paper, glass and tyres, and invested in key infrastructure to sort process and remanufacture materials, it’s clear that the burden of change cannot rest on the public sector alone.
In the technology sector, we have a responsibility to support this change. Our responsibility lies in working with the public sector, shifting some of the momentum behind rapid innovation of products and services to support the evolution of e-waste management in our country.
Innovate with sustainability from the outset
The first step in reducing our volume of e-waste starts by innovating technology with sustainability at the core of our thinking.
By applying rigorous sustainable design principles, we can drive society towards a circular and low-carbon economy, designing out waste by using — and re-using — materials responsibly. This thinking ultimately enables Australian businesses and consumers to also make conscious decisions to invest in the future of our environment.
Across the world, we are already seeing how a focus on sustainability of long-term energy storage can result in rapid innovation. Historically, hydropower dams have been one of the only approaches to manage the seasonal shifts impacting energy collection and storage. However, creations from companies — including Lightsource, which is adding storage to solar developments; Antora Energy, which is building a low-cost thermal battery for grid-scale energy storage; and Google, which is storing renewable energy in molten salt — are challenging these limits by placing sustainability at the core of thinking.
At HP, we have a clear vision for sustainable office and home printing. Not only have we committed to reducing single-use plastic by 75%, we have also created a range of products reducing environmental impact through innovative design and increasing post-consumer recycled content plastic.
Embracing circular business solutions
Not only should tech companies be designing products with sustainability incorporated from the outset, but we should be embracing circular business models from within.
The circular economy is a unique opportunity not only for companies to reduce their environmental impact but is also a significant economic opportunity promising to add $210 billion to Australia’s GDP by 2050.2
At HP we’ve recognised the environmental and economic value of the circular economy and expanded our device-as-a-service (DaaS) and managed-print-service (MPS) offerings to deliver better value to customers with reduced environmental impact. Compared with traditional transactional sales, a lifecycle assessment of a notebook PC found that DaaS reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, improves resource efficiency by 28%, decreases ecosystems impacts by 28% and reduces human health impacts by 29%.3
These improvements are mainly due to keeping PCs in use for multiple lifecycles, which avoids manufacturing of additional devices and extends the life of high-value materials.
Collaboration is key
Reflecting on e-waste it’s clear the technology industry has a role to play in supporting the environment and remedying this problem. But it’s also clear that no single organisation can solve this problem alone.
For example, Global car manufacturer Groupe Renault collaborated with the EU LIFE Programme to create ICARRE 95, a project which accelerates closed loop recycling in the car manufacturing industry. Through the cross-sector partnership, Renault collects end-of-life vehicles, dismantles them, shreds and washes the material, and then remanufacturers it back into new vehicles. This initiative was created to reduce waste, increase resource optimisation and reduce the environmental impact of the European automotive industry.
Initiatives like ICARRE 95 are a clear representation of the power of partnership. It is crucial that we come together — as individuals, as public entities and as private organisations — to start meaningful conversations and cross-sector collaborations to drive pace behind the change in how we manage our e-waste.
Key to driving a circular economy is the need for cross-sector collaboration, embracing our economy as an ecosystem of businesses, rather than individual units.
United Nations University, The Global E-waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, flows and the circular economy potential.
NSW Circular, The circular economy opportunity in NSW 2020
HP Inc., 2019 Sustainable Impact Report
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