From mounting piles of waste to the depletion of natural resources, the current modes of production and consumption are unsustainable. Based on the current linear economic model, products are made, used and discarded.
Challenging this linear model, a new economic model, known as the circular economy (CE), is gaining traction.
Defining the circular economy
The circular economy calls for a paradigm shift across society in which products, components and materials are viewed as regenerative and restorative. It reassesses how resources are managed and how waste is perceived throughout the entire lifecycle of a product from its initial design to its use, repair, reuse, re-manufacture and, finally, its transformation into parts for new products.
Material efficiency (ME) is an essential part of the circular economy. It consists of the conservation of materials by making products more durable, resource-efficient and facilitates the reuse or recycling of parts at the end of the life.
Role of standards
Standards can serve as an important tool to promote the circular economy. They can, for example, provide methods to measure the durability or upgradeability of a product. They can assess the ease with which a product can be repaired or recycled. And, they can ensure the quality of the recycled materials.
Standards must set requirements to guarantee the safety and performance of products, including when, in the future, products will be expected to remain in use for much longer. Issues such as product upgrades and an increased number of repair cycles will need to be addressed. Standards will also need to take into account that products, in the future, will contain increased amounts of recycled material and reused components.
The IEC has already issued several publications related to the environmental impact of electric and electronic equipment. For example, IEC 62430 specifies the requirements and procedures to integrate environmental aspects into the design and development of products as well as the materials and components from which they are composed. Two technical reports, IEC TR 62824 and IEC TR 62635, provide guidelines on material efficiency for the ecological design of products and the calculation of recyclability rate for electrical and electronic equipment, respectively.
However, the IEC is faced with the need to undertake further work and provide guidance to its technical committees as they prepare standards. For example, committees may need to understand how to balance between making products that withstand increased number of repair cycles and contain increased number of reused components while still ensure that they perform well and remain safe.
IEC workshop on the circular economy and material efficiency
To help IEC standardization experts better understand how to integrate the circular economy and material efficiency into their work, the Advisory Committee on Environmental aspects (ACEA) is organizing a workshop in Shanghai on 19 October alongside the IEC General Meeting.
The workshop will provide an update on the regulatory and standardization activities underway around the world as well as practical examples of their application. Leading manufacturers will provide insight on how their industry is introducing the circular economy into their business plans. The workshop will end with a discussion on how material efficiency affects the standardization activities of the IEC.