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Electronic Democracy: Empowering consumers to extend products’ lifetime and Reduce E-Waste

Dario Tameu

Dario Tameu, Writer
@uxconnections

Is Recycling Enough? The true key to achieving a circular economy relies on the hands of the consumers themselves.

Electronics is one of the fastest-growing streams of waste, with a growing trend that continues to increase relentlessly. According to UNU’s prediction, e-waste is still set to increase by around 40% before 2030, and it is proving to be a challenge affecting every aspect of the consumer electronics industry, politically and economically speaking.

These days many products seem designed for the manufacturer’s eyes only. Many of the world’s most successful commercial products are designed intentionally to deter repair, reuse, and recycling.

Now more than ever, this growth in waste makes us understand that it is time to take a different direction, going beyond the recycling of materials and electronic components towards a more sustainable future and a truly circular economy.

Such radical change should not only regard the end-product and how to deal with it once it reaches the end of its course, but it should already begin in the design phase. More designers and manufacturers should start thinking about products’ lifetime and how to extend it by making products that are more suitable for remanufacturing.

“There is now an opportunity to start planning for the design of our next generation of products—not as orphaned new products but ones that are reborn and remanufactured from previous generations”, wrote designer Matthew Cockerill in his article for Fast Company

It is possible for electronic products to live within a completely circular system, as the rate of change of devices such as smartphones and computers is slowing down from one iteration to the next.

An important element that can contribute to the existence of products within this system -as well as being an effective counteraction against e-waste- is repairabilityRight to Repair rules are starting to come to effect in more and more countries, a recent example is the law’s approval in the UK this summer.

Right to Repair requires manufacturers to make spare parts available for certain electrical products within 2 years of product launch and for a minimum of 7 or 10 years, depending on the part. Some of these spare parts would be available directly to consumers while some would only be available to professionals if the repair job is difficult or unsafe.

This legal concept is just the first outcome of a more sustainable direction; new communities are emerging of people wanting to share skills and teach each other how to repair their electronic devices. An interesting example is the Restart Project: a people-powered social enterprise that aims to fix consumers’ relationship with electronics.

Born in 2013 as a reaction against the throwaway consumerist model of electronics, the Restart Project aims to bring people together giving them a more practical and hands-on opportunity to make a difference.

This initiative directly tackles the issue of what kind of product consumers really want. With a better understanding of how the systems of everyday life work, from technology to government, comes the empowerment to change them. This is what sustainability truly involves: not only making products that last longer but also building our awareness and confidence to make a positive impact.

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