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Circular Wonderings is an exploration of the role of digital, software and technology in the Circular Economy. Exploration is the key word here. I write regularly, reflecting on my current thoughts and research. Expect typos, incomplete thoughts, varied rambling topics and (hopefully) a journey towards clearer understanding and insight. Subscribe here to join my journey.

Gold in them thar... waste

"A smartphone is made up of 62 different metals and metalloids, which all contribute to essential components of a device. In order to obtain these precious metals and produce a single smartphone, 34kg of ore needs to be mined, using 100 litres of water and 20.5g of cyanide." [1]

In our prevailing linear economy the assumption is that every single gram is used once, and then thrown away. For every new gram we must start again, using the same amount of energy and resources to find, mine, refine and deliver the new virgin material.

Far from a paragon of efficiency, this looks more like an unbelievable waste.

And there are real opportunities in that.

"...there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of smartphones than a tonne of gold ore."[2]

This does not mean that it is currently equally easy to extract the gold from smartphones.

And therein lies the problem. Nothing in our current system is optimised to get a return from incredible value in old mobiles. The devices are individually distributed across the globe. And even when we get hold of them, extracting materials from the phones is difficult. Indeed many devices are actively designed to make them difficult to disassemble.

There is opportunity in hard problems.

Software engineering (and engineering in general) is about solving problems. The hardest problems are not how to squeeze a little more efficiency from existing systems, they are solving deep issues inherent in the very essence of our society.

One example of a business that is attempting to innovate a solution to part of this problem is ZeroNet [3].

ZeroNet are combining rethinking logistics software with creative partnerships in the real world to help solve a genuinely hard problem [4]

The problem is reverse logistics. In circular economy terms, reverse logistics involves the collection of goods, transportation to a given location, and sorting prior to remanufacturing, refurbishing, reusing or recycling or failing that, safe disposal.

If, as software engineers, we wish to leave our mark on the world, then this is to sort of project to work on.

 


[1]: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/save-the-planet-one-mobile-device-at-a-time/
[2]: https://www.weforum.org/our-impact/the-african-circular-economy-alliance-impact-story
[3]: https://www.thezeronet.com/
[4]: https://happyporchradio.com/s5e8-reimagining-reverse-logistics-with-paul-mcsweeney/