Navigating the Complexity of Global Circular Economy Policies and Regulations

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The circular economy concept is gaining traction worldwide as a sustainable alternative to a linear economy's traditional "take, make, dispose" model. The following is a sampling of the various policies and regulations being implemented or proposed around the globe.

February 19, 20247 mins
Environmental technology concept

The circular economy concept is gaining traction worldwide as a sustainable alternative to a linear economy's traditional "take, make, dispose" model.

In a circular economy, resources are kept in use for as long as possible so that the maximum value can be extracted from them. Materials are then recovered and repurposed at the end of their service life. The model is particularly relevant to the IT industry, which is a significant producer of electronic goods and the electronic waste (“e-waste”) that results when the time comes for disposal.

The following is a sampling of the various policies and regulations being implemented or proposed around the globe. It provides a framework of how regulatory thinking is evolving, but rules change often, and many countries have yet to codify their plans. Websites like DigWatch and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research can be useful resources in staying abreast of developments.

European Union

The EU has been at the forefront of promoting a circular economy with several directives and regulations.

The Basel Convention, which went into effect in 1992, is an international treaty meant to reduce the movement of hazardous waste between nations, particularly from developed to less-developed countries. It also promotes environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes, including their minimization and recovery. A key element is that a country receiving hazardous waste must be informed and consent to the import.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) sets collection, recycling, and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods, including IT equipment. It aims to reduce e-waste and improve the environmental performance of businesses involved in the life cycle of electronic equipment.

The directive encourages the design and production of electronic equipment to facilitate repair, upgrading, reuse, disassembly, and recycling. It also sets targets for specialized waste collection and the recycling and recovery rate of collected waste.

The Ecodesign Directive is a set of mandatory ecological requirements for energy-related products sold within the EU. Considered a cornerstone of the EU's policy to improve the environmental performance of products throughout their lifecycle, the directive focuses primarily on energy efficiency but also addresses other environmental aspects, such as resource efficiency and the reduction of hazardous substances. The Directive aims to reduce the environmental impact of products through energy-efficient designs that reduce overall resource consumption.

The Circular Economy Action Plan is a component of the European Green Deal that is intended to make the EU's economy more sustainable by promoting circularity across sectors, including electronics. Its "Right to Repair" initiative encourages the design of longer lasting and more easily repairable products. A 2020 update to the original 2015 plan introduced initiatives spanning the lifecycle of products - including environmentally-responsible design, circular economy processes, sustainable consumption, and rules that ensure waste prevention and resource reuse within the EU economy.

United States

With no comprehensive federal law covering the circular economy and e-waste regulations, rules are currently created and enforced on a state-by-state basis.

In many cases, regulations are similar across jurisdictions. For example, California, New York, and Illinois are among the states that have enacted e-waste recycling laws that require manufacturers to finance the collection and recycling of discarded electronics. California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 imposes a fee on the sale of covered electronic devices such as televisions and computer monitors, which is used to reimburse collectors and recyclers for the costs of compliant e-waste management.

New York’s Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act requires manufacturers to provide free and convenient electronic waste recycling to residents, schools, municipalities, small businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supports various initiatives and partnerships to promote sustainable materials management and responsible e-waste recycling. The Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse maintains a database of state laws.


Countries in this region have become increasingly focused on regulation, perhaps because about 80% of e-waste from the US and other countries is transported to Asia, particularly to less developed countries without adequate anti-dumping laws or the means to enforce them.

China’s Management Regulations on the Recycling of Waste Electrical and Electronic Products requires manufacturers and importers of electronic goods to bear responsibility for recycling and establish a special fund financed by manufacturers and consignees of covered products to subsidize the costs of recycling e-waste. A more expansive plan issued in 2021 sets numerical targets to be achieved by 2025. However, critics have noted that enforcement at the local level has been a challenge.

Japan's Law for Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources, enacted in 1991 and revised several times since, promotes the sustainable use of resources - including reduction, reuse, and recycling. While not exclusively focused on e-waste, it covers a wide range of products, including electronics. The Act on Promotion of Recycling of Small Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment specifically addresses the collection and recycling of smaller electronic devices like mobile phones, digital cameras, and portable music players.

India’s E-Waste (Management) Rules were updated in 2022 to include all types of computing devices. They make producers of electronic goods responsible for collecting and recycling e-waste through a system of Extended Producer Responsibility, a policy that gives producers significant responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products and incentives to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products.

Emerging Trends

Some regions are exploring digital product passports for electronics traceability. These provide digital records about a product's origins, specifications, and usage - including composition, repair, dismantling, and end-of-life IT asset disposal. They’re intended to address the challenges manufacturers have ensuring responsible practices across global supply chains.

Governments are also beginning to incentivize business models that promote circularity. Product-as-a-service or leasing options can extend the lifespan of IT products and reduce waste. Popular incentives include financial rewards such as tax breaks, grants, subsidies, preferential procurement policies, flexible compliance options, certifications, access to research and development facilities, and other inducements for sustainable design and deployment. These can relieve some of the cost and complexity of compliance.

Ensuring compliance is a journey rather than a destination for IT organizations. The countries in which a business operates, the types of products it produces and consumes, and its tolerance for risk are all factors in formulating a strategy. Partners holding third-party certifications for responsible electronics recycling and reuse can be valuable allies in navigating this increasingly complex environment. Iron Mountain Asset Lifecycle Management is an R2v3 certified provider committed to circular IT practices and offers ITAD services in over 30 countries across 6 continents. Learn more about our ITAD services at

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