UCI professor describes how to develop a circular economy for e-waste

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) professor Oladele “Dele” Abiola Ogunseitan says extracting the benefits from electronic waste (e-waste) requires innovations in natural resource recovery, regulatory policies and consumer participation.

Oladele Ogunseitan is the UC Presidential Chair and a UCI professor of population health and disease prevention. The Nigerian public health researcher has worked on studies that consider how toxic pollutants impact human and environmental health.

In an article, “Bending the curve of the electronics revolution toward a circular economy of e-waste”, published online in the journal One Earth, Ogunseitan discussed how the sustainability challenges of pollution and the mining of raw minerals using child labour present “opportunities” to create a circular economy which allows e-waste to be recycled into materials to produce new, less toxic devices.

When introducing the article, Ogunseitan highlighted that advocacy for a fully circular economy for e-waste has “intensified” as a response to the ever-increasing demand for materials. The presidential Chair continued that the demand is also a reaction to the “toxic legacy” of e-waste.

Creating a sustainable circular economy of electronic products and ending e-waste is possible.

To “bend the curve” of electronics towards a circular economy, Ogunseitan says that merging innovation in resource recovery, regulatory policies and consumer participation is needed.

“E-waste is spiralling out of control, with 53.6 mega tonnes generated in 2019, and is projected to more than double to 110 Mt by 2050,” Ogunseitan says.

He suggests five ways of “bending the curve” toward a circular economy, these include the recovery of end-of-useful-life electronic devices – particularly mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers – developing cost-effective electronic product disassembly automation tools and salvaging material resources, especially cobalt, from discarded devices.

The final two suggestions Ogunseitan makes are to harmonise and strengthen international regulatory policies and educate the public about e-waste.

“Creating a sustainable circular economy of electronic products and ending e-waste is possible through strategic implementation and coordination of these solutions,” Ogunseitan says.

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