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More Sustainable, Reusable, Recyclable Electronics – and the Right to Repair?

Sustainable consumption of goods is an integral part of the green transition and circular economy, a fact recognised by the EU. As part of the Helsinki-Uusimaa Entrepreneurial Region theme year, we are publishing this case to showcase an example of circular business in the region.

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The world’s fastest growing waste stream

Electronics waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, and it is estimated that the value of unexploited e-waste is approximately 57 billion euros annually.

You might recognise the situation where an electronic device is malfunctioning, and buying a new one just feels like the easiest way to fix the problem. Your phone might not get any new updates, or the spare parts for your printer are more expensive than a completely new printer. Such situations are frustrating for consumers and repair companies alike.

Electronics waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, and it is estimated that the value of unexploited e-waste is approximately 57 billion annually.

– In the long run, it would benefit everyone if devices were already designed keeping in mind that they will have to be repaired and recycled at some point, says Seppo Jylhäaho, CEO of Teraset Finland. The company offers sale, repair, maintenance, and recycling services for electronics in Helsinki.

EU Encourages Circular Economy

It seems that the EU agrees. Earlier this year, the EU Commission published the new Circular Economy Package, which extends the existing Ecodesign framework. Product design is essential in determining its durability and repairability; up to 80% of any product’s environmental impact is determined by its design. The Circular Economy Package is a very welcome reform.

In addition to product design, the EU intends to improve consumer rights. The European Parliament has already supported the establishment of a Right to Repair, and now the Commission is drafting a proposal on the subject. The proposal is set to be published in November.

The exact content of the proposal is yet unkown, but the Right to Repair could entail for example the availability and affordable pricing of spare parts, longer availability of software updates, and that consumers would have access to more reliable and clear information about the durability and repairability of any given product before committing to buy it.

Change of Mindset – No More Disposables

A general change of attitude is underway. Both consumers and businesses are more environmentally conscious than before, and tired of disposable electronics.

– Today, reused devices make up about 95 per cent of our sales, and only the small remaining part of our sales is made up of new products. When Teraset was founded in 2002, the numbers were the other way around, says Jylhäaho.

According to him, it wasn’t consumer demand that led to the complete turnaround. In their case, environmental considerations were the primary reason, along with the competitiveness of their business. In the market of new products, you must compete with big actors.

– There’s competition in the market of used products as well, but it is easier for businesses to stand out and distinguish themselves in this market.

The fad to make all the more slim and slender laptops is not positive from a sustainability point of view.

Some phenomena in the industry are unfortunately not up to date with the sustainability trend. For example the fad to make all the more slim and slender laptops is not positive from a sustainability point of view.

– It goes without saying that the slimmest devices are also the most fragile, they don’t endure usage in the same manner as more sturdy ones do. In addition, there’s usually more solid parts in slim products, which makes repair difficult or even impossible. Glued and welded parts are still common, Jylhäaho says.

Generally speaking, laptops designed for business use are more sustainable and have better quality. Then again, companies are willing to pay more for their computers than consumers.

– The price of a used computer might in some cases sound a bit high, but it should be compared to the price of the same model when it was new, not the cheapest consumer model on the market. All our used computers are sold with a one-year guarantee, and they easily function much better and for a longer time than the cheapest model as a new product.

Teraset focuses on refurbishing and selling used company computers, as opposed to consumer computers, and so the quality of the product is high to start with. This makes it possible to guarantee the quality of the used product.

New Marketplace for Used Electronics

Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences is piloting a Circular Economy Digital Marketplace. Sami Nykter, project manager of the pilot at Haaga-Helia, has learned that businesses take recycling matters seriously. However, many businesses are cautious of buying used IT products and might think that it’s more complicated than buying new products. Some companies have expressed concerns about the possibility of used computers containing malware.

– It’s important to build trust. Used products are always emptied completely, and the software is installed anew in its entirety. After that, they cannot contain malware or any data from the previous owner. One of the requirements before partnering with the marketplace is that the service provider must offer a guarantee for the products they sell, Nykter says.

Such security issues and preconceptions have been challenging for the pilot to tackle. Then again, there are still companies who leave their old computers laying around without emptying them. That’s also a security risk.

The primary purpose of the martkeplace is to match the seller and buyer.

The primary purpose of the martkeplace is to match the seller and buyer. The platform has a double function; it serves as a place for companies to sell their used IT products, and in the same place, companies and consumers can buy used and refurbished IT products from the service providers. The digital marketplace is provided and managed by Fiare Solutions.

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