Circular Economy Business Models: E-waste as a Resource

In today's world, electronic waste, or e-waste, is a growing concern. With the rapid advancement of technology, the average lifespan of electronic devices is getting shorter, leading to a significant increase in e-waste generation. This poses environmental and health risks if not managed properly. However, there is a silver lining to this challenge: e-waste can be a valuable resource when incorporated into circular economy business models. In this article, let’s explore the concept of circular economy, its relevance to e-waste, and various business models that leverage such waste as a resource.

Understanding Circular Economy

A circular economy is an economic system designed to minimise waste and make the most of resources. Unlike the traditional linear economy, where products are manufactured, used, and then discarded as waste, a circular economy promotes a continuous cycle of reuse, remanufacturing, and e-waste recycling. It aims to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them.

The circular economy is driven by the principles of:

Design for longevity: Products are designed to be durable and easily repairable, extending their lifespan.

Reuse and refurbishment: Used products are refurbished and resold, reducing the need for new production.

Recycling and material recovery: Materials from discarded products are recycled and used in new products.

Resource efficiency: Minimising resource consumption and maximising resource utilisation.

E-waste: A Growing Challenge

E-waste includes a wide range of electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), such as smartphones, laptops, TVs, and household appliances that have reached the end of their life cycle. According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, approximately 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were generated worldwide in 2019, with only 17.4% being collected and recycled correctly. The rest often ends up in landfills or needs to be managed appropriately, posing environmental and health hazards.

The challenges associated with e-waste include:

Toxic substances: E-waste often contains hazardous materials like lead, mercury, and cadmium, which can leach into the environment when not handled correctly.

Resource depletion: Valuable materials such as rare metals, gold, and silver are lost when e-waste is discarded instead of being recovered and reused.

Energy consumption: The production of new electronic devices consumes significant energy and resources, contributing to carbon emissions.

Waste management costs: Managing e-waste is costly for governments and municipalities, which often bear the burden of waste disposal.

To address these challenges and create a more sustainable future, businesses and policymakers are turning to circular economy principles and exploring innovative business models that view e-waste as a resource rather than a problem.

Business Models Leveraging E-Waste as a Resource

E-waste Recycling and Refurbishment

One of the most straightforward approaches to leveraging e-waste as a resource is setting up recycling and refurbishment facilities. These facilities dismantle and process discarded electronic devices, recovering valuable materials such as metals, plastics, and glass. They also refurbish and repair items that can be resold or donated.

Businesses operating in this space can generate revenue by selling the recovered materials to manufacturers and refurbished devices to consumers. Moreover, this approach significantly reduces the environmental impact of e-waste disposal.

Product as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS is a business model that shifts the focus from selling products to providing services. In the context of e-waste, this means companies offer electronic devices as a service rather than selling them outright. Customers can use the products on a subscription basis, and the service provider is responsible for maintenance, repair, and end-of-life recycling.

This model promotes the longevity of electronic devices as they are designed for durability and easy maintenance. It also encourages the responsible handling of e-waste since the service provider is incentivised to recover and recycle materials efficiently.

Modular Design and Upgradability

Companies can design electronic devices with modular components that can be easily upgraded or replaced as technology advances. This approach extends the lifespan of products and reduces e-waste generation. Customers can purchase add-on components or upgrade kits to enhance the functionality of their devices rather than buying entirely new ones.

Businesses that adopt this model can benefit from increased customer loyalty and reduced production costs associated with designing entirely new products. Additionally, they can offer trade-in programs where customers return their old components for recycling or refurbishment.

Reverse Supply Chain Management

Reverse supply chain management involves the efficient collection and return of end-of-life products and materials to manufacturers. In the context of e-waste, this means establishing collection points where consumers can return their old electronic devices. Manufacturers can then recover and reuse valuable materials and components.

Companies adopting this model can generate revenue from material recovery and reduce production costs, as recycled materials are often cheaper than sourcing raw materials. Moreover, it enhances brand reputation by demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and responsible product disposal.

Collaborative Recycling Networks

Collaborative recycling networks bring together various stakeholders, including manufacturers, recycling facilities, and policymakers, to create a closed-loop system for e-waste management. These networks aim to streamline the collection, recycling, and remanufacturing processes while ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. Businesses involved in collaborative recycling networks can benefit from shared resources and expertise, making e-waste management more cost-effective and efficient. It also fosters innovation through collective problem-solving and research efforts.

Innovative Material Recovery Technologies

Some companies are developing innovative technologies to recover valuable materials from e-waste more efficiently. For example, urban mining techniques use advanced processes to extract rare metals like gold and silver from discarded electronics.

Businesses in this field can monetise their technologies by licensing them to recycling facilities or partnering with electronics manufacturers to implement more sustainable material sourcing practices.

Challenges and Opportunities

While leveraging e-waste as a resource presents numerous environmental and economic benefits, there are also challenges and opportunities to consider:


Regulatory compliance: Implementing EPR programs can be expensive, especially for smaller businesses. However, the long-term benefits, including reduced production costs and improved brand reputation, often outweigh the initial investments.

Consumer behaviour: Encouraging consumers to recycle their electronic devices properly and embrace circular economy principles can be challenging. Education and awareness campaigns are essential to changing consumer behavior.

Technological innovation: Developing efficient and cost-effective recycling technologies and processes is crucial for the success of circular economy business models focused on e-waste.


Market growth: The e-waste recycling market is expected to grow substantially as more companies and consumers recognise the value of sustainable electronics disposal. This presents a significant business opportunity for those operating in this space.

Brand reputation: Embracing circular economy principles and responsible e-waste management can enhance a company's brand reputation and attract environmentally conscious consumers.

Resource security: Recycling and reusing e-waste materials contribute to a more secure supply chain for critical raw materials, reducing dependence on mining and extraction.


E-waste is a pressing global issue, but it also represents an untapped resource for businesses willing to embrace circular economy principles. By adopting innovative business models that view e-waste as a resource rather than a problem, companies can reduce their environmental footprint and create new revenue.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!

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