The transition to the circular economy is a paradigm shift that will require fundamental changes to how we approach materials, design, and use of products, as well as how business models are shaped to generate revenue. Today, a number of obstacles stand in the way of the circular economy. Overcoming them will require a dedicated, all-in effort that begins now.

In a circular economy, the aim is to keep products and materials in use as long as possible. Products are designed for a long life and are durable, repairable and upgradeable. When products no longer can be used, materials are seen as resources that are reused in new products. The more a product can keep its original shape, the more it will retain its value, which is illustrated by the circles in the diagram. Circles closer to the user are more resource efficient than circles that are further out.

A lacking circular mindset, technical difficulties and not enough material reuse are some of the obstacles standing in the way of transitioning to a circular economy.

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Lack of a circular mindset

Unsustainable, linear business models persist

Linear business models where the purpose is to sell as many products as possible, are highly profitable in purely financial terms, but fail to account for the true costs of pollution and waste creation. These models must be replaced by circular models, for example where products are offered as a service.

Lack of supporting legislation and incentives

In most countries, legislation that regulates how e-waste should be handled is lacking or very weak. This needs to change. Other ways of speeding up the transition to the circular economy include financial incentives that encourage the reuse of products, and that makes it economically advantageous to use recycled materials instead of virgin resources.

Used products perceived as inferior

IT brands work hard to attract us to the most recent product models. Today, part of the positive user experience is owning something new, while reused IT products are often perceived as less attractive. Could users focus on functionality instead of looks, and could a second-hand or remanufactured product be perceived as a modern, conscious choice?

Product performance needs vs perception

Until recently, computer software has continually required more hardware performance which has made IT devices obsolete after only two to three years. This is no longer true, and our mindsets need to change. By purchasing a high-performance product, you can keep it longer, or sell it to a second-hand owner.

Lack of communication

While waste from one industry can be valuable for another, large amounts of resources are lost because of a lack of understanding and communication between different industries. A fully circular value chain requires collaboration between industries throughout the product lifecycle.

Technical obstacles

Concerns about data protection

Fear of confidential data leakage results in many IT products being stored in drawers and basements instead of being made available for reuse. If manufacturers provide users with secure data sanitization software, this can be avoided. Many professional refurbishment companies also offer safe data removal.

Poor battery lifetime

Portable IT products are often discarded because the battery has lost its ability to hold a charge, even though the product is otherwise fully functioning. Batteries should therefore be of good quality and be replaceable.