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The issue of climate change adaptation and mitigation is rising ever higher on humanity’s sustainability agenda. The promise of the digital revolution has come at a huge cost, including the massive environmental impact of the exploding number of digital devices that are produced and disposed of within a few years. Globally, there are estimates that 27 billion networked devices will be sold in 2021, up from 17 billion in 2016. Most devices last less than five years.

Digital technologies can help us fight climate change, environmental degradation and pollution, but we must significantly reduce their impact on the planet. The negative effects of digital technologies are diverse, from the pollution and health impacts of the extraction of minerals for digital devices, to the energy used in their manufacture, and the poisons released in aquifers resulting from improper disposal.

One of the key strategies in mitigating the environmental impact of digital devices is to treat the devices as part of circular economies. These strategies are not unique to the digital realm, and can be used in all aspects of the economy to reduce the use of polluting or exploitative inputs, minimise energy consumption in manufacture and operations, expand the lifespan of devices through repair and reuse, and improve effectiveness of recycling.

This edition of this guide to circular economies of digital devices developed by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) network is a preview, to solicit feedback and suggestions prior to the publication of the full document. It comprises an introductory chapter which outlines the need for circular economies of digital devices and describes the scope of potential interventions and issues that are raised. Chapter 2 consists of a series of case studies of projects which implement elements of the circular economy for digital devices. Future chapters will reflect on lessons and best practices from case studies, and will include recommendations for local and collective action.

Read "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A guide to circular economies of digital devices (A preview)"

This preview of a guide to circular economies of digital devices was developed by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) network, led by Leandro Navarro (UPC and Pangea), Syed Kazi (Digital Empowerment Foundation) and Shawna Finnegan (APC). The guide was edited by Mike Jensen and proofread by Lori Nordstrom. All visuals were designed by Cathy Chen.

Case studies were developed by Jes Ciacci (Sursiendo), Florencia Roveri (Nodo TAU), Peter Pawlicki (Electronics Watch), Alejandro Espinosa (Computer Aid), Patience Luyeye, Rozi Bakó (Strawberrynet), Julián Casasbuenas and Plácido Silva (Colnodo), Syed Kazi (Digital Empowerment Foundation), and Leandro Navarro (UPC and Pangea).

A working group of APC members, partners and staff are supporting the development of the guide.