Danish study on life cycle assessment of electronic products

A Danish study on electronic products shows that depending on the energy use, in some cases, throwing a way an old product and buying a new can be the best environmental option.

The Danish environment ministry has carried out a LCA study on whether it, from an environmental point of view, is best to repair or throw away old electronic products. This study is directly relevant for the debate on the WEEE directive and the upcoming proposal on integrated product policy (IPP). But it is also indirectly relevant for the debate on the packaging waste directive.

The study examined the consequences of repairing, upgrading or replacing four groups of products: televisions, mobile telephones, PCs and frequency converters. The results varied between the products, mainly depending on the development of new techniques in the next generation of products. TVs and mobile phones are for example getting more energy consuming with the additional functions being added. In that case the environment is better off if the products are repaired and upgraded, than renewed. New models of computers on the other hand, are so much more energy efficient, that a complete change of products is the environmentally better alternative.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impact a product will cause during its whole lifetime, from production and use to disposal. LCAs are being used more and more frequently in research for policy development. It is often used to compare the pros and cons of different materials for e.g. packaging. The risk with LCA is that there is a tendency to use it to 'prove' the superiority of one product over another. In the past, many LCAs have reached different and sometimes contradictory conclusions about similar products.

 

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