E Waste, Circular Economy and Innovation
[Dr Robyn Remke] Welcome all of you who are just now entering to our webinar today. I’m going to turn it over to Dr Stowell who is a senior lecturer in our department of organisation work and technology here at Lancaster university management school. She's also the associate director of the Pentland centre, which is an amazing research and pedagogical centre focusing on issues around climate change and sustainability from a management school perspective. Which is a quite exciting intersectional space to be in. So with that I’m going to turn it over to Dr Stowell and give her the floor and I will come back at the end of the presentation to help facilitate any kinds of questions that you might have so, welcome everybody and Alison over to you. [Dr. Alison Stowell] Thank You Robyn, I’m just going to share my screen so I’ve got some slides to share with you before I introduce the presentation. I’m hoping that when I do this can you see my slides?
[Robyn] I can yes. [Alison] Great okay, so one thing I just wanted to mention to all of you before we start is that this presentation is being recorded, but we will stop the recording at the end of the talk so that we can have a very open conversation about any questions that you may have. So my presentation is called e-waste the circular economy and innovation. And the pitch of this presentation really is around what sort of management and organisational challenges we may have in in regards to our resource usage.
When I talk about electronic waste, I talk about it in very specific terms. Now electronic waste can be anything from your kettle to a novelty toy with some kind of electronic current going through it. It could be your computers it could be a PlayStation, your washing machine your fridge freezer, this term has a very huge scope. But for the purposes of this presentation and my interest, when I refer to electronic waste I’m going to talk about it in the context of technology.
Like our laptops, like our mobile telephones. So I wanted to give the start of this presentation a little bit of background of how I became interested in electronic waste before we go through the rest of the session So my research interest really is, as an academic, the organisation of electronic waste and more recently and more broadly complex wastes. So I’m interested in how societies, organisations and management respond to these challenges and what type of values we attribute to waste. Also the type of occupations
now how I became interested in this really sort of became apparent when I worked at IBM. I’ve had a lot of experience prior to becoming an academic in the public and private sector spheres even. But when I worked at IBM I was put on this staff retention program which allowed me to use it as a springboard and to actually do a masters which is how I first encountered Lancaster. Exploring, sort of, some areas around technology and change. But at the
time when I did my masters I became very curious as to what IBM were doing with all the discarded technology. At the time when I was working there they were also selling off their manufacturing sites to Lenovo, so I started becoming curious and I wanted to know you know, sort of, where do these products end up. You know there's so much creativity in it and you know ingenuity put into developing these devices where did they go and you know at the time you know this was sort of in the mid 2000s there was big NGO campaigns around you know sort of all the global north's discarded technologies were going to the global south. And some big exposes which I think you
know sort of that's a legacy story now. I also became curious as to what type of organisations were involved in this. So I’ve had the privilege of working with many organisations, from companies that provide recycling services, to companies that reuse these devices , to companies that retrain using old technologies and retrain people in skills in this area. Also companies that deal with asset recovery, governments and so on and so forth. I also sort of was really curious about policy and as I said you know when I was doing my study for my masters, there was lots of new policies especially in the UK that were trying to tackle our electronic waste.
And I love this photograph at the end here because this at one of my research sites was my stripping bench where I actually physically stripped computers to find out what was actually involved in the process. So the talk I want to give you today is to sort of think about what is our issue with resource usage, what are the potential solutions and then I want to talk about why are we not capturing our resources but very specifically in relation to e-waste and then sort of conclude the presentation with what are the alternatives or what sort of things could we think about as practicing managers and organisations around this particular domain. So in a nutshell we've got a significant issue in regards to climate change and our resource usage contributes to that. The image that I’m showing you on the screen indicates that if we carry on using the resources at the rate we do, taking them from the earth, you know making our products and then disposing them. We've already surpassed 100 billion tons of resources which is more than the earth can actually sustain. But if we carry on in this trajectory by 2050 that will be 177 you know giga-tons of resources that we'll use. Which, I can't even compute that number. But when
we're actually extracting and we're making things and we're producing and selling them, all of this has a carbon footprint and a significant one at that. So if we carry on this trajectory of our unsustainable resource usage we're also going to carry on the trajectory of warming up the planet. And quite simply if we hit, if the planet warms up by over three or four degrees it starts becoming uninhabitable for human life. So this is just a newspaper article that I found from last year,
which indicated you know the world consumption habits have now reached this milestone. But what we use our resources in our housing, is communication is you know sort of delivering of services and we're extracting minerals, ores and all sorts, but a lot of our materials are idle you know you think about I mean not at the moment in the global pandemic, but you think about how often your house is laid idle or how frequently you use your car. Some of the resources that we use are already built into products and housing and infrastructures that are sort of idle, but there are is a vast amount of resources that we're throwing away. I should say that there's a report that's published every January around the world the same time as the world economic forum, and it's called the circularity report. It's been going for the last three or four years and what they're trying to do in this report is capture how we use our resources and understand how circular we are with our resource usage. When it was first
published it showed that the world was successful in recapturing some of its resources, about nine percent but over the last couple of years that's dropped down to eight point six percent. But it's well worth looking at that report. Now how we've got here with this resource usage I always think of an interesting dichotomy for want of a better word is, you know, we have industrialised, we have developed since the 1800s around the industrial revolution, but what our development's given us and what the Stockholm Resilience Centre has shown in these hockey graphs for want of a better word, is the positive socioeconomic trends now you know we see that we've got an increase in population, which is fantastic because it's showing that people are living for longer and our health's improved. We're seeing that more people are becoming more affluent, we're seeing that you know we've got transportation which is allowing has allowed us pre-Covid, to travel around the world, share products, we've got telecommunications and we've got sort of international tourism. So there's lots of positive signs that have happened with how society has developed in some regards right and I’m not saying that these benefits are um equal across the world. But on the flip side what this resource usage is showing is the unsustainable trends, so we've got carbon dioxide rising and even in the environment with coved where we're not travelling or moving around so frequently. Signs are showing that the carbon dioxide is still increasing in
our atmosphere, we've got ocean assistive acidification we've got biodiversity loss. We've got issues around land usage, so whilst we've got these positive development activities we've also got these negative activities. And one contribution is our resource use. Now part of this too is how our economies developed and there was an Economist Schumpeter who really was interested in why the economy seemed to rise and then fall.
What was happening here? He studied you know different economic circumstances, but what he found here and this is how it's going to tie into sort of electronic waste if you like. Is that he saw that the economy there was a boost in the economy when new innovations were introduced. So what he saw was every sort of 40 to 50 years we'd get a new innovation. And this would then boost the economy drop the economy until something new came along. So if you look on
here on the charts you know sort of around the 1950s and 1990s where we have electronics here and you look at some of the companies that started up around this time like Microsoft and some of the technology giants we have today. This was sort of the introduction of our digital networks our software and our media. Now Klaus Schwab from the World Economic Forum wrote a publication called The Coming of the Fourth Industrial Age. The next wave he argues is us moving into more sustainable pathways of creating new products and services. For me one thing that's key here when we think about discarding things it's always one wave behind innovation. So here are sort of some of the major concerns that are put forward from policy and business spheres, you know if we continue this resource usage if we continue this economic development that's very much in this linear fashion. We're going to continue to degrade the environment.
The Circle Economy, in their gap report, they indicate that if we moved to a better way of reusing our resources then we could halve the greenhouse gas emissions from our production and consumption services. There's issues around resource scarcity you know the earth can't sustain the amount of resources we're using so with resource scarcity comes price volatility. So if we're only using sort of 8.6 of the materials that are out there that's a huge, in business terms, that's a huge financial loss or a missed opportunity. There's also issues around reputational capital, you know, your clients, your stakeholders, your consumers are starting to ask questions about where are your products and services made? Are they environmental? Unless we pay attention to sort of the resource use and how we extract out where we get it from where we source it and use it, then you know this causes issues for reputation for many organisations. There's also concerns around compliance costs, there's lots of mobilising agendas, the EU have the circular economy package for example. There's lots of environmental legislation companies are
doing shadow carbon pricing preparing for more legislation coming in and again you know sort of this this is an area of concern. Then finally, and I’ve put these in no particular order by the way, there are social costs with our resource usage you know climate change is unequally distributed. Some countries suffer more than others. Also you know if we're creating an environment where the earth temperature is rising we're having more extreme weather events and so on and so forth. We're also creating issues around healthcare and we're also recreating poverty so for example in in rural places in say somewhere like Peru or Bolivia where farming is very important, if all of a sudden the land becomes arid and dry or it becomes flooded, then people who live in those urban environments and are working in agriculture will then go into poverty themselves because they can't produce the crops that they may sell in the future.
So a big solution around this, and this has really been mobilising probably since around sort of 2005-2007, is in policy and business fears is this notion of the circular economy. Now I’ve put a definition up that comes from The Ellen MacArthur foundation and this is one of the most pervasive definitions of what a different type of economy could look like. So a circular economy, as it says here, is one that's restorative and regenerative by design and it aims to keep our products components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. It distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Now there's lots of debate around whether this is an appropriate definition whether this definition is one that's just focusing on eco-efficiency, it misses out people but nonetheless this is the definition that's very pervasive all over the world. So here's the model that goes with it right and if I put my arrow, I’ve got two screens that's why I’m turning to the side, if you can see my cursor here. What the circular economy is trying to address is to move us away from this linear economy of take make and then dispose. What it's saying is that we've got lots of leakages here, there's lots of
negative externalities and you know if we actually adopt different cycles and different ways of working with our resources, we can use renewable energy we can decarbonise in this biological cycle and then in this technical cycle we can look at other alternative business models. The type of business models they're offering here are thinking about circular supply chains I’ve already mentioned you know shifting energy usage to renewables, biomaterials, resource recovery. Thinking about building products or services to last and different sharing platforms or thinking about whether we could actually, instead of owning a product, whether we could use it as a service and a mobile phone is quite a good example isn't it here in terms of a lot of us lease our phones, we have contracts that we then hand our phone back in, or some of us do. So then, what has this got to do with e-waste? Now where e-waste fits in here is we are generating so much, you know, so much so that in according to the UNEP global e-waste monitor report that happens every couple of years. The world is throwing 53 million metric tons of these electrical and electronic devices away a year. So that's 800 laptops per second, so you think how long we're together today you know in that 60 minutes. How many laptops are
going to be thrown away? Now these products combined the materials contained within them are worth anywhere between, I’ve put this in euros actually, 47 billion euros which is similar to pounds or 57 billion us dollars. So it's a lucrative business because these devices can be made up of anywhere between 700 to 1000 different chemicals, they use rare earth metals some that are on our critical resource list like copper, unless we can find a better conductor for electricity at the moment most of the electricity is conducted through copper, which is in all our devices. And you know we have we haven't got many years left of mining for those metals. In this report too it indicates that we're only recapturing 20 percent of this 53 million.
Now a lot of triggers happen around electronic waste and partly the reason we're generating so much especially around technology is due to upgrade speeds and for many of us it's our desire to have something shiny and new. Us wanting you know the speed at which our computers operate and I always found it a fascinating fact when I first started researching this, that most of us only use the 10 of the functionality our laptops and computers give us. So whether we need you know the latest version is questionable. There's also issues around sort of trying to
encourage right to access, there was a big drive in the European Union and across the world where people have the right to access information and how we access information can be through technologies you know there's more mobile phones on the planet than people at the moment. In some countries there's issues around landfill capacity reaching its maximum, you know we've got nowhere to put this waste now. I’ve mentioned critical resources and there's challenges around waste infrastructures, some are more developed than others and that we've also got this mind-set about short-term economic gain versus long-term sustainability. I mean do these devices enable us to foster our business in a more network and capable way than whether we could think about whether we could do something in a different way. We purchased laptops that might be cheaper,
when actually we could think about is the laptop made sustainably for example? So I’d like to take a break here right and ask you all to open up your browser on your computer because I’d like to hear from you what you think are the challenges with capturing electronic waste, so if you could open a browser on your screen and type. www.menti.com and then put in the code 88 95 69 8 we can have a look at some of your responses as to why you what you see are the challenges around capturing e-waste. So I’m going to stop sharing my screen and go to the menti presentation just to see what some of you are putting in.
[Robyn] Alison can you put that code back up for us or maybe put the code in the chat maybe some of us missed it. [Alison] It's just going to come up on the screen now again. Can you see my screen? [Robyn] We can but we're already starting to see some emoji’s, I think if you could, oh there's the code there I see it okay. [Alison] All right it's 88 95 69. So, let me just go back here and make sure I’m on the wrong here right okay. So I’m starting to see emoji’s, I’m not starting to see words
[Guest] Yeah same hear, I think the quiz is taking time to load. [Alison] If I leave you answering that then we'll come back to that and we'll see how many we share at the rest of the presentation. So bear with me with that one. [Guest] So it's currently just saying, get ready to play so I don't know if you've, it needs to be started or...
[Alison] I thought I had bear with me, let me just go back here. [Robyn] I seem to be having some issues as well Allison. [Guest] I think if you press enter it will start it.
[Alison] Thank you very much for that, who would believe that I worked at IBM? with my technology usage. Okay Okay so that's great, so here we've got come back here we've got some great points, collection points and eco waste awareness cooperation with corporations, ease of disposal, lack of collection points, consumers not knowing how and where to dispose and the complexity of disassembly. I’m hoping that some of these we will actually now cover. So I’m going to stop sharing this screen but please remember keep that browser open because I do have a little bit of work for you to do again and I’m going to re-share my slides. Okay so from the research, I’ve been very, as I mentioned at the start, I’ve been very lucky in working with some of the organisations that I have around this.
Now one of the big reasons I think we don't recapture e-waste is the term waste itself. Now the term waste itself when I did my sort of explorations into this is a term if you take it back to its theological and also ecological roots, was described as wasteland and wasteland is a threat to humanity because it's a piece it's a landscape where humans can't survive. So waste then starts to have this negative connotation with it and over time where we've been developing you know in the world we and we started to urbanise, we started to view waste as something that was very static and controllable but it still provided some disorder to our communities and urban areas, especially in terms of health and hygiene. So lots of infrastructures were set up to move waste out of cities and to stop you know sort of the transmission of diseases. So you know sort of we shifted we still saw it as something negative we
wanted to sort of move it away out of sight out of mind. Until today we actually now have really complicated wastes, you know historically we've had by um biodegradable wastes because we didn't have um things made out of petrochemicals and so forth. But waste now has become something that circulates so you know you only need to think about the plastic crisis. So I think one of the key reasons why we're not recapturing e-waste too is how we understand that term, we assume that as soon as something's waste we want to you know sort of get rid of it so it encourages us not to see value. Another which you mentioned on the Menti meter too is the challenge
of tracking the flows and fates of e-waste. Now this map that I’ve put up on the screen was um a map of thinking about when I was doing my PhD research and some research after that, was what happens to a computer and I always found it fascinating that you nowhere in the UK, that's where I did my PhD research, could actually recycle a whole computer. So these errors on the screen show where all the different parts of the computer went and for reuse I found it fascinating that one company was supporting and I didn't find it fascinating that they were supporting a charity that needed computers for schooling but I found it fascinating that they transported the computers to the country and then transported it all the way back and never thought about setting up an infrastructure or opportunity there to dismantle the computers. So they took a 16,000 mile round trip. And I think also you know it's really hard especially sort of
today too is where you know trying to track where we're selling all these materials. There's so many places you can sell secondhand goods online but circuit boards inside our technologies were going on slow boats to Japan to smelters to extract gold silver you know sort of palladium, there were batteries were going to France and so on and so forth. So one of the issues really is around tracking the flows and fates. Where do our resources go? Another area of concern is around disposal practices, we automatically, there is an assumption that when we discard something it's a wasteful act, and it actually isn't you know when we discard things it can be a space to consume, it can be an economic opportunity, it shows some sense of freedom that you know we have the power to throw something away we think we don't need. So we have to recognise that disposal practices are really connected into how we already organize our world they're connected into issues of how we consume, what our identities are either as individuals or as organisations and what we value. There's also concerns around data security, you know, when we're getting rid of our organisational devices are they wiped of security data. This can often mean that
sometimes organisations hoard their devices you know I know I hoard some of my mobile phone and my computers here until I’m satisfied that I all the data is gone and I can send it for end of life. So that the picture here shows some of the systems that were getting rid of some of the data on discarded devices. There's also concerns about when we discard our e-waste whether they're going to organisations that are compliant do they have good organisational practices. You know are they extracting the right values from this complying to legislations. There are also issues where people have concerns about reputation, in regards to if they were to sell off second-hand devices for example. Where would they end up? So for example one of the organisations I worked with had concerns and they needed a third party in to make sure that the second hand goods were, it's IPAT testing I believe, were elect you know sort of compliant that if they handed them on to a repair organisation then they weren't at risk of being held to account if one of those devices malfunctioned or disrupted. So there are issues around sort of reputational capital and actually
connecting with organisations that actually undertake repair. There's a huge policy landscape you know there's global solutions and I’ve put one of these here the Basel convention which tries to stop the transportation of hazardous waste, which as I mentioned earlier you know some of these devices have 700 to 1000 chemicals in, in the past they've had things like arsenic and lead. There's national solutions all over the world you know I think there's about 67 national solutions now in countries of legislation specifically for electronic waste. There's also the whole mind field around voluntary policy, whether you're meeting certain standards and whether your customers and clients expect that. Especially if your client is somebody who's going to be handing on the upgraded devices from an organisation. Then one of the things I found really fascinating is there's issues of collection and storage in order for anything to be profitable and there has to be a feedstock and so you don't really want to individually we can actually sell our one devices you know maybe through one of the second-hand platforms, but as an organisation you don't really want to be handing one in one out. Typically you want you know sort of a good
amount so one organisation I spoke to really I found it fascinating that they used to donate all their products to a charity, the charity would then effectively store it in their warehouse whilst they refurbished the offices and then they'd buy it back. So there are these issues around storage and somebody actually quite rightly pointed out collection. And of course there's issues around educational awareness. You know depending on what type of
organisation you run or you work within, there is a perception that people want you know I found it fascinating when I worked at IBM, that everybody wanted the latest laptop they wanted the latest mobile phone in order to do their job. I was as guilty as most you know getting really excited when it was time, it was two and a half years then, when it was time for a new laptop. So there is one is around sort of behavioural change in getting people to realise what they what service they want from their technologies. Another also is around raising education and awareness about how to dispose of these things. The picture on the screen is by
the government organise a government sort of body called material focus who've started this innovative drive for households around recycling your electronics, because I was involved in a study as part of this piece of research where we were trying to look at the unreported flows of e-waste and what we found was that people were hoarding, waste was actually going into the household bin and so you were losing a lot here so there is a big part around sort of education and awareness also. So if we reflect back on the circular economy or reflect back on the resource uses challenges you can see all the same a mirrored here for electronic waste right. Environmental degradation, you know transportation emission costs, resource scarcity, reputational capital, compliance costs and social costs here too. So this leads to sort of the third
part of the presentation then. What are the alternatives? What can we do about it? And here you know The World Economic Forum have raised electronic waste back up into the spotlight and in 2019 they released this report saying a new circular vision for electronics, it's time for a global reboot, it's time for us to see the value in what we're doing. In this model here, you know, they cover elements to think about if you remember the definition of the circular economy is about not just becoming efficient in collecting resources, it is about thinking of future designs. They came up with this to think about sourcing manufacturing, the life of the product, life extensions and what we do with end of life, which very much fit into some of those circular business models that I mentioned before. So some of the lessons that I could take away and from
speaking to sort of different organisations, are the following. You know all organisations procure and source products. Especially IT related ones, so there are specific questions you can think about, if you don't already. Where does your supplier feature in sustainability? Where and how are the products manufactured? You know how durable are the products? At one charity that I did some research with, they had a real bug bear that some of the elements and components inside computers and laptops would last 10 or 15 years, but the rest of it, the software would fail or other components would fail which would then mean that it was hard to repair and it was also redundant earlier than it needs to be. So
do your employees and do you need a brand new IT equipment? Could you use remanufactured equipment? Could you consider leasing your products, leasing your IT infrastructure and hold your um supplier into account of delivering a service that is suitable for your organisation? And also to think about what incentives are there around sort of returning devices do the people that you're going to procure your devices from offer this? I think you can also reflect upon how you use your devices, I mentioned earlier that it always fascinates me that we only use or, and I’m sure I’m true here, 10 percent of the functionality of a computer. So depending on what service or products your organisation make does everybody need the highest spec equipment? Can this equipment have second life elsewhere in the organisation? Is there further opportunities to virtualise and reduce the amount of equipment you have? And can these devices have a second life outside of your organisation? So for example you know you could think about your organisation's purpose and values is either particular communities you are aligned with that could use this equipment. There's also considerations about life extension, you know when you're selecting your, if you move to a model of service rather than ownership, you will by default hopefully have a maintenance contract involved. Which means that your products can be fixed, but if you don't you know can you collaborate with other organisations to do the repair. I mean there was a big trend of offshoring, outsourcing, insourcing and it
may well be within your organisation you have a strong IT department, but do they deal with repair? Typically repair takes time and there was a great comparison I had between a private sector organisation and a charity, the charity's main aim was to actually train people in computing skills and the private sector organisation was very keen on making a profit, but they gave 15 minutes to repair a computer whereas the charity might give five or six hours. So can we change the mindset here you know are there other organisations you could engage with? Can we raise the profile of repair again? Some of the people that I encountered in the waste sector from my perspective especially in reuse and repair have skills equivalent of technical support or IT architecture, so there could be opportunities here for repair and maintenance offerings with it you know expanding your job ranges within your companies. There was a lovely study done in Ireland that showed for every thousand tons of electronic waste thrown away you could generate 15 recycling jobs and 200 repair. I found that you know sort of very fascinating. So when we think of end of life, how do you collect the products? Where are you going to store them to make sure that you have sufficient amount to be taken away? Can you share storage? Are there you know are you on a technology park for example, what services are local to you are there organisations like asset recovery companies out there that could give you these services and what opportunities are there for partnership? You know, this very much falls in the ethos of the sharing economy and some of those crowdsourcing if you like opportunities.
So these are sort of some of the lessons or takeaways of alternative ways you could think about sort of procuring and using your electronics within your organisation and recapturing them. So that's almost me done for this presentation so I’d like to thank you for listening, but before I finish I’d like to ask you one final question where I would like you to return to Menti meter and hopefully now I know how to operate it and move beyond the icons. To say well what's your key takeaway and I’ll come back to the challenges and opportunities to finish so what is your top e-waste takeaway today? I’m just going to share my stop sharing this screen and I’m going to re share my other screen.
Can you see this other screen? [Robyn] I can see it yes it looks great. [Alison] So we've got sharing and scarce materials, partnerships, repair, reuse. So for me what I think this is showing is all the opportunities that are out there and not just for electronic waste, I’ve used that as an example for better resource usage in organisations, you know there are opportunities to reduce your environmental impact, there's opportunities for growth, there's opportunities for you know this new economic paradigm and there's opportunities for serviceability, you know there's opportunities to create jobs. Which I think this is a very exciting time but I will finish by saying sort of adopting this
new economic paradigm of the circular economy, has to be done also very mindfully in order to take into sort of a lot of the limits of the earth too but I think it is a positive step forward. So, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and I will leave it there.