Google to Samsung: Circular Tech Strategies Unveiled at CES

Tech made from recycled materials took centre stage at CES, as leading companies from Panasonic to Samsung to Google unveiled circular economy strategies

Synonymous with cutting-edge consumer tech, and heralded as the global platform for innovation, CES has been rolling out leading-edge technologies since its inception in 1967.

What started with just 250 exhibitors in NYC more than 50 years ago has grown tenfold.

Attracting more than 3,500 exhibitors and 130,000 attendees, the much-anticipated CES took to the Las Vegas stage this week from January 9-12 under the theme ‘All Together. All On’ – and it didn’t disappoint.

As you might expect, AI was in the driving seat, but evident too was the significant shift toward sustainable solutions – with big tech players launching and demonstrating the strategies they use to drive responsible technology.

Addressing issues such as energy consumption and environmental impact, and spanning transportation, smart cities, digital health, gaming and food, companies from Panasonic to Samsung, Mitsubishi to Acer revealed innovative strategies, solutions and products for a better, more sustainable planet.

Circular economy focus among big tech at CES 2024

The big change for CES this year was an increased focus on what goes into products, with a widespread expansion among big tech of recycled materials being used in everything from devices to displays.

Leading the circular economy charge on the first day of the show, CES show organiser Consumer Technology Association (CTA) unveiled a new voluntary circular economy pledge.

The Consumer Technology Circularity Initiative (CTCI) calls on big tech to reduce waste – with founding companies Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Lenovo and LG all pledging to boost e-scrap processing, improve repair and reuse, and incorporate more recycled content into products.

“The hallmark of the technology industry is innovation. CTA member companies exemplify this and advance the entire industry by advancing a circular economy, seeking to mitigate environmental impacts and offering solutions that enhance the consumer experience to live sustainability,” said Walter Alcorn, VP Environmental Affairs and Industry Sustainability, CTA. 

In its own announcement of the initiative at CES, multinational electronics giant LG Electronics reported collecting 53 million pounds of e-scrap in the US in 2023, and that those devices were processed by e-Stewards and R2 certified recycling firms as part of its E-Waste recycling strategy.

LG announced it is expanding the use of recycled plastics in 19 product categories, setting a target to use a cumulative 600,000 tonnes of recycled plastics in products by 2030 and achieve a 95% waste recycling rate at production sites by 2030.

Google, Samsung, Panasonic double down on ‘reduce, recycle, reuse

Committed to circular economy principles, Google unveiled its new policy at CES 2024.

Supporting the Right to Repair movement and users’ right to self-fix devices, the policy empowers “people by saving money on devices while creating less waste”, Google said in a new white paper.

This includes making tools, parts and repair manuals available to device owners.

Like Google, Samsung doubled down on ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’ at the show, committing a significant proportion of its keynote speech to sustainability efforts – and especially its expansion toward resource circularity.

Inhee Chung, VP of Corporate Sustainability at Samsung highlighted the company’s recycled fishing nets which it includes in some of its bestselling products, including the Galaxy – along with recycled plastic in its TV and recycled aluminium in its bespoke refrigerators.

Inhee Chung, VP of Corporate Sustainability at Samsung

“Recycled plastic accounted for 14% of the total plastic used in our products in 2022,” Chung announced, adding that the company is "working towards increasing this amount”.

The Group aims to apply recycled resin to 50% of plastic parts used in its products by 2030 and to all plastic parts by 2050.

Beyond end-of-life use, Samsung further showcased how it is delivering refurbished phones through programmes like 35 Renewed, and Galaxy Upcycling – an initiative that encourages users to reuse or repurpose old phones; and a partnership with D-Lab at MIT focused on developing new ways to upcycle Samsung devices so they don’t become e-waste.

Among signatories to the new CTCI pledge, Panasonic has recently issued its new Group-wide Circular Economy Policy, which focuses on several key circularity principles including maximising the product lifeline, minimising the use of materials, and extending the use of recycled and renewable materials.

And at CES, the Japanese tech giant showcased the technology it uses to recycle used products alongside introducing a number of products that feature a weighty proportion of recycled materials.

Among these, the Palm Shaver using NAGORI, a sustainable material from sea minerals that replaces plastic.

As the first company in Japan to recycle plastic materials on a mass scale using static-electricity separation technology, which has contributed to the mass recycling of a wide variety of plastic products, Mitsubishi Electric Group introduced a Recycling Disco to CES – to demonstrate the recycling technologies it utilises to reuse and recirculate plastic waste.

PC makers Lenovo, Acer reinforce recycling with new products

Moving from strategies to products, some of the world’s biggest PC makers, Lenovo and Acer, look to be making huge strides in circular economy principles and especially plastics use.

With a commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, Lenovo is transitioning to a circular economy through innovations in its supply chain, product design and services. The Chinese company is integrating closed loop recycled plastic (from electronics) into almost 300 products, as of 2022.

At CES 2024, the company reinforced its ethos of reducing, reusing, and recycling with a new collection of Yoga laptops, which now contain recycled aluminium in the chassis, have 50% recycled aluminium in the base cover, and at least 90% PCC plastic in the power adaptor cases.

And all come in plastic-free packaging and FSC-certified paper boxes that are responsibly sourced.

Select Yoga laptops take sustainable responsibility even further with a cover made of 100% recycled aluminium.

Acer’s Vero new line of laptops has been carrying the sustainability torch since 2021 – and its new Aspire Vero 16 unveiled at CES delivers its most powerful carbon-neutral AI PC yet.

The design has a chassis made with 60% PCR (Post-Consumer Recyled) materials that significantly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions during production. Inside, the Acer Aspire Vero 16 uses an OceanGlass trackpad made from recycled ocean-bound plastic, while the entire product is shipped in 100% recycled packaging.

On the accessories front, tech accessory giant Belkin unveiled a lineup of innovative and sustainable products constructed from mainly post-consumer recycled materials.

With more than 200 products transitioned to include post-consumer recycled materials, Belkin has replaced 64 metric tonnes of virgin plastic and is working towards achieving 100% carbon neutrality in its operations by 2025.

Its new line of products, Belkin delivered a 3-in-1 wireless charger and Qi2 magnetic power bank are made from 75% and 72% recycled materials, respectively.

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