Environmental Assessment of Consumer Electronic Products

20th May 2010

A review of high volume consumer electrical products through Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), to compare their relative environmental impacts and identify future trends.

Key findings
Environmental impacts of consumer electronic products occur mostly in two phases of the lifecycle: the use phase, and the materials/process phase
Products with their greatest impacts in the materials/process phase show broadly it would be beneficial to extend their lifetime

Overview

This study reviewed and compared the findings of Life Cycle Assessments and other studies for 15 individual consumer electronic products, chosen to illustrate a range of items across different product categories, with different material contents and energy use scenarios.

Conclusions

The main findings were:

  • Environmental impacts of consumer electronic products occur mostly in two phases of the lifecycle: the use phase, and the materials/process phase
  • Products with their greatest impacts in the materials/process phase show broadly it would be beneficial to extend their lifetime
  • The combined impact of the use phase was the greatest over all of the products. It is determined by the product’s power demand, frequency of use, and product lifespan
  • The impact of the materials/process phase was the second greatest. It is determined by the mass of the product, and the ratio of electronic components. The larger the ratio of electronics, the greater the energy requirement. In some cases the materials/process phase is more significant than the use phase.
  • The high energy-users can still have large potential savings in materials as they contribute the greatest total materials impacts across the range. Improvements in energy-efficiency are becoming harder to achieve in some of these categories.
  • Distribution and end of life phases are a negligible impact for all products in the total lifecycle impacts.
  • When comparing lifecycle impacts against UK sales in 2009, televisions contributed the greatest overall impact of more than 250,000 Terajoules (TJ) of energy - 45% of the total of all the products studied.

Read the full conclusions >>

Where next?

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