Did you know that this month is Plastic-Free July?

Cheap. Durable. Versatile. It is fair to say the world has become dependent on plastic. But without efficient recycling practices, how we dispose of waste is causing a huge problem for our planet.

Over half of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic manufactured since the 1950s has ended up as waste, contributing to the growing environmental crisis we face today.

As plastic accounts for approximately 20% of components within electrical devices, manufacturers have a responsibility to improve their sustainability processes.

So, how can the electronics manufacturing industry consciously sustain effective recycling practices — or even better, cut down on plastic entirely?

Putting sustainability first

To minimise their impact on the environment, electronic products and packaging should be made with 100% recycled materials. But that is nearly impossible with plastic, so it is common for companies to only use a small percentage of rehashed plastic in their products.

But there are ways for electronics manufacturers to cut down their plastic use…

Improve recycling practices

To safely recycle e-waste that consists of a multitude of materials (including plastic, metal, glass, precious metals, arsenic, lead and mercury), electronics manufacturers must comply with the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive and should utilise free WEEE recycling facilities to recycle any electronic items they no longer need — a quick and easy way to reduce excess landfill waste.

And if manufacturers need further incentive to dispose of plastic packaging correctly, look no further than the UK’s Plastic Packaging Tax. This regulation, which came into effect in April 2022, aims to incentivise businesses and manufacturers to increase plastic waste collection and recycling — or face hefty added taxes.

Design for sustainability

The European Commission’s sustainable product policy says that up to 80% of a product’s negative impact on the environment is locked in at the design stage — and it is easy to see why.

Although the customer may design the electronics product, electronics manufacturers have a hand in material, component and supplier choices, creating inevitable consequences for recyclability and end-of-life disposal.

To improve these processes, manufacturers should minimise the different types of materials used or move to a single-material product — avoiding plastic where possible. It is also important to source materials from suppliers that place sustainability at the top of their agenda.

Avoid single-use plastic

As the UK cracks down further on single-use plastics — with bans on a range of single-use plastics, including plates and cutlery, coming into play from October 2023 — the electronics manufacturing industry should be following suit. 

To minimise waste and the manufacture of virgin plastics, manufacturers must keep plastics within use cycles by repurposing plastic materials and using recycled plastics for electronic components and packaging.

Use alternative packaging

So many of the digital devices we purchase today are packaged with excessive plastic wrapping and unnecessary cords. Not only does this packaging contribute to waste, but it could also be a major turn-off for today’s consumers…

In a 2020 study, 74% of consumers preferred sustainable packaging and were willing to pay more for it. Thankfully, new developments in eco-friendly packaging are helping manufacturers incorporate green designs into their wrapping solutions.

For example, moulded fibre has emerged as a popular recyclable and biodegradable packaging alternative. Made from bamboo, sugarcane and other fast-growing fibres sourced from responsible suppliers, moulded fibre is a shock-proof and pressure- and moisture-resistant material.

Cornstarch-based foam has also become a sustainable packaging alternative. It can be created in bespoke shapes to protect any type of product in shipment and is disposed of by composting it or dissolving it in water.

Our sustainable packaging initiative

From the beginning, EC Electronics has delivered finished, tested products to our customers in reusable plastic tote boxes using collapsible dividers for protection. As our customers use the products at their factories, the empty containers are stacked inside each other and eventually returned to us when our next delivery arrives.

We are still using the same boxes today (16 years later) for the latest generation of products. During that time, we have delivered 170,000 pieces!

Now, as the need for environmentally friendly packaging increases, one of our key sustainability initiatives is to reduce packaging altogether.

We have identified three specific elements of our business where we use packaging and will address each individually. Each of our manufacturing sites will have a trained packaging ‘champion’, who will ensure all products are packaged to a precise specification — using the minimum packaging materials whilst still guaranteeing the safety of products in transit.

Plus, in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic waste within our team, we have gifted our head office new water bottles to reuse! This is a small step to a company-wide reduction in the use of plastic, but hopefully, it will make a difference and help our colleagues monitor and consider their plastic usage.

We know that we have a long way to go — but our ISO 14001:2015 certification and

environmental policy ensures we are constantly working to improve our carbon footprint and encourage our peers to do the same…

Are you ready to take steps toward a greener future? Learn more about our sustainability initiatives or contact our team at +44 (0)1256 461894 or email sales@ecelectronics.com to discover how we can help with your next project.