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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Assessing the scope for a circular economy in the electronics industry

Electronic waste (e-waste) is among the most rapidly growing waste streams with a lack of proper management of its disposal. Projections for 2030 suggest that 75 million tons of e-waste is expected to be generated globally. The generated e-waste accounts for about 70 percent of all the hazardous waste in landfills. Alongside the environmental hazards, other social and economic dimensions are also associated with e-waste. With this waste stream set to grow exponentially in the coming decades, a system transition of the electronics industry is critical. The transition to industry-wide practices that align with sustainable production, consumption, and disposal routes is a monumental challenge, however, there is great potential for a circular electronics economy.

This dissertation aims to determine the system dimensions associated with e-waste. Currently, linear approaches dominate the electronics economy. This study uses a qualitative approach to understand how the circular economy model can be alternatively employed in the industry to address these sustainability issues. The study is performed through a critical literature review of the current e-waste landscape and circular economy principles in practice. Systems diagram is then used to understand how greater environmental, social, economic, technical, and institutional benefits can be unleashed for the industry. This helps to map key interdependencies between the system variables. Following this, a theoretical framework is developed for the case study. Companies across the different WEEE categories are studied in the case studies and further used to identify the key challenges in implementing the theoretical model of circularity in the industry. Following this, recommendations for future action are presented.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.