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How the automotive & electronics industry transitions towards the Circular Economy

In addition to activities of legislative bodies, industry itself has set out on a path towards circular economy, sometimes moving at an even faster pace. The automotive industry is in the midst of an unprecedented transition – from combustion engine-powered vehicles to electric vehicles. Formed by the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and launched in 2020, the Circular Cars Initiative is a multi-stakeholder collaboration fostering new technologies and business models to allow the automotive industry to meet the 1.5 C climate goal.

iPoint’s automotive customers lead the flock

Supported by Ford Motor Company, the 2020 paper ‘‘Circular economy framework for automobiles: Closing energy and material loops’’ outlines the circular and non-circular material, energy, and waste flows along the product life cycle, thus indicating the levers necessary to bring about the change. In June 2021, Volvo reported their existing and future largescale component reuse initiatives, along with their aim to become a fully circular business by 2040. In fact, most automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including, for example, Daimler, Ford, Renault , and Volkswagen Group, have announced their future sustainability goals, which include zero waste, responsibly sourced sustainable materials, and carbon-neutral vehicles.

Several circular economy initiatives in the electronics industry

The electronics industry is dealing with comparable challenges when it comes to complexity and scale of the value chain. Circular economy in the electronics industry is the focus of several initiatives across the globe. PACE (Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy), for example, has published the Circular Economy Action Agenda for Electronics drawn from the insights developed by the Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP), the United Nations E-Waste Coalition, and from discussions with various industry, government, and non-profit organizations. CEWASTE – an EU-funded project dedicated to developing a voluntary certification scheme for waste treatment – calls for critical raw material recycling in the final report.

The Target: Becoming carbon neutral

On top of this, major high-tech electronic manufacturers like Apple have announced a target of becoming carbon neutral across their entire business and manufacturing supply chain by 2030  – 20 years earlier than the EU Green Deals target. Microsoft promised to be carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050 to have removed the same amount of carbon as it has ever emitted from the environment.

Amazon has set a 2040 target to go carbon-neutral. iPoint’s customer Logitech, one of the leading electronics brands when it comes to sustainability, has already achieved full carbon
transparency for some of their products, with plans to expand this initiative to the entire range of products.

At least in the case of electronics, industry and policy alike appear to move in the same direction. For example, the European Parliament’s Circular Electronics Initiative aims to promote regulatory measures for electronics and ICT (information and communications technology), including mobile phones, tablets, and laptops under the EU Ecodesign directive [52], the framework for energy labelling (EU) 2017/1369, and related legislation, implement the ‘‘right to repair’’, and improve the collection and treatment of electronic waste, amongst other things.

And finally, raw material suppliers and chemical manufacturers – who provide the building blocks for manufacturing industries – are increasingly forming and joining circular economy initiatives. CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council, puts chemistry at the center of the circular economy and sees the 21st century as an era for designing ‘‘products that will never go to waste’’ and technologies that ‘‘extract and recycle carbon from CO2 emissions’’.

Individual approaches like Solvay’s blockchain-based one aim at achieving traceability of a product throughout the entire value chain and facilitate recycling. BASF’s circular economy program rests on three pillars: circular raw materials, new material cycles, and new business models; the company strives to double their sales with solutions for a circular economy by 2030 and using 250 000 t of recycled and waste-based raw materials instead of fossil sources from 2025.

Angelika Steinbrecher

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