Europe’s ‘circular economy’ strategy could be shake-up for mobile

As part of the new Industrial Strategy set forward by the European Commission, rules designed to combat the throw away culture of today might have a significant impact on the mobile sector.

The European Commission is championing what it is now coining as the ‘circular economy’, a concept designed to challenge the take-make-waste extractive industrial model which fuels so many landfills around the world. On the surface it might sound like political jargon, a sustainability agenda which is designed to attract attention not material change, but there is certainly potential for a jolt to the mobile and smartphone manufacturing segments.

The following extract from the plan sets out a top-down view of the strategy:

At the heart of it [the Circular Economy Action Plan] is a new sustainable product policy framework which will establish sustainability principles for all products, helping to make Europe’s industry more competitive. Priority will be given to high-impact product groups and action will include initiative on the common charger, a circular electronics initiative, sustainability requirements for batteries, and new measures in the textiles sector.

In pursuit of climate change and sustainability goals, attention has to be turned to behaviour as well as technological and industrial efficiency. This is the purpose of the ‘circular economy’, to make more of what is currently available as opposed to simple replacing products on a regular basis.

The Circular Economy Action Plan will attempt to force companies into creating a more environmentally friendly and sustainable supply chain. Part of this will be to identify and measure durability, reusability, reparability, recyclability and the presence of critical raw materials in products and set up an action plan to improve each component.

What this could mean for some companies are higher standards of quality for items which are regularly replaced today. Batteries, consumer electronics, mobile devices could be a few which falls under the umbrella. Few companies will like regulatory change because it leads to disruption within their own business. This is an area which certainly has the potential to do just that.

“This strategy could be an opportunity to completely transform the way European industry operates,” said Davide Sabbadin of the European Environmental Bureau (EBB), a lobby group based out of Brussels.

“Europe needs to be ready to embrace a new industrial revolution with clean, safe and sustainable jobs. A strategy which fails to deliver would be a disaster for the aim of reaching climate neutrality and other commitments made in the European Green Deal.”

For mobile devices and smartphones, this could mean stricter standards. For example, low-end mobile devices and handsets which become redundant in a short period of time could fall foul of the rules. It could mean this segment of the market is effectively killed off as higher specs and more expensive materials are forced on manufacturers, reducing profit margin and the appetite to produce such products.

The impact of these new rules and initiatives remains to be seen. What is worth noting is that many of the manufacturers are making strides forward to improve the sustainability of manufacturing and logistics operations, though whether this falls in-line with the standards championed by the European Commission will decide the scale of disruption.