SR article

Exploring future visions on e-waste

In 2050, Den Haag plans to become the next sustainable circular metropol in Europe. The TU Delft has been approached to help with developing a plan to achieve this ambition. Circularity comes with many different themes and subjects. We have chose to investigate electronic waste as a prime target in tackling circular sustainability. Where does the waste come from and where does it go? Are there still valuables in old electronics, and if so, how do we extract them?

Many questions arise and our first step finding answers is to analyze the current situation by researching the initiatives affecting den Haag. We will then arrange interviews and form our own vision, concluded by interviews about it.

Table of content

1. The Issue
2.Sustainability in the Hague
    - GreenPeace
    - Rebus Netherlands
    - SnapCar
    - RevSpace
    - FairPhone
    - Second hand store
3. Vision on E-waste
    - Visions
    - Our Vision
4. Follow-up interviews
    - Ger Kwakkel
    - Marleen Lodder
    - Hilde Vogelzang
5. Final remarks
6. References

1. The Issue

During the course Engineering for Sustainable Development we have had multiple brilliant guest lecturers such as Arie Voorburg from Arcadis and Carien van der Have from GreenBrain. They all had one point in common, the importance of circularity.

Jennifer Gerholdt writes in the book Achieving a circular economy that the linear economic model, where “natural resources are extracted from the ground,made into products, used and thrown away—was highly successful in delivering economic development during the 20th century”. Today however, companies sees ”economic opportunities of a viable  successfully tackle sustainability challenges. [..] The circular economy is an industrial model that is restorative or regenerative by design and intent: products, components, and materials are kept at their highest value at all times” [1].

Not only can the circular economic model be highly profitable by reusing resources that otherwise would have been bought, the model is also sustainable, making it a durable model for future generations. We are going to try to apply this model on the electronic waste generated in den Haag.

Electronic waste, E-waste, or officially WEEE(waste electrical and electronic equipment)is the waste E-waste can be classified as discarded electronic equipment, discarded computers, mobile phones, televisions, refrigerators, fridges and more. The current e-waste situation is far from sustainable. According to the UN Environment Programme up to 90 percent of the world’s electronic waste is dumped or traded illegally [2]. In Europe, it is common for the e-waste to be gathered properly, but as it is locally too expensive to recycle the constantly increasing stream of E-waste, private actors collects the e-waste for recycling, where “many of the actors involved walk on a thin line between legal and illegal” [3].

Unfortunately, most ‘recyclers’ do not recycle at all, instead the waste gets exported to developing countries. In countries like Nigeria or Ghana, some cities are so flooded with electric scrap that the unregulated dupe sites burn the huge stacks of E-waste. As the electronic contain hazardous materials, the dump sites emits deadly dioxin and furans. It was found that in one if the e-waste processing regions in China more than 80 percent of the children suffered from lead poisoning, the workers in the region also had high levels of toxic fire retardants in their bodies [4].

E-waste is a serious problem and something clearly needs to be done the prevent this ongoing environmental and human rights disaster. For the Netherlands around 30 to 40 percent was officially collected and recycled in 2012. “Around 10 percent ends up in waste bins. The flows and treatment of the remaining WEEE are not known from registrations, but it is partly exported and partly recycled without being registered as WEEE”[5].

2. Sustainability in the Hague

There are multiple types of initiatives related to e-waste and everything around it. An initiative can for instance come from a government that wants to make it easier to recycle by setting up more accessible recycling sites, or the initiative can come from a electrical manufacturer that tries to make their products more easy to recycle. In every initiative there are initiators, supporters and users.

To find more information about initiatives done for sustainable electrical waste handling we did some research and held some interviews. We tried to find initiatives on different societal levels to get a broad understanding of E-waste related to Den Haag. For instance, we found initiators that cover; individual level (RevSpace), manufacturing level (FairPhone), organizational level(GreenPeace) and more.

GreenPeace

Since 2006, the non profit organization GreenPeace has been campaigning for greener electronics by challenging the leading electronic manufacturer to reduce their environmental footprint. GreenPeace wants to prevent an e-waste crisis by making manufacturers design long lifespan and clean electronics that are easy and safe to recycle [6]. Taxpayers should not bear the cost of recycling old electronics, the manufacturers should according to GreenPeace, take full responsibility of the life cycle of their products and re-use, safe recycle or dispose unuseful old electronics. GreenPeace also wants consumers to be more aware of the e-waste problem and advises consumers to think twice before buying electronics and return equipment to the manufacturer when you have finished using the product [7].

Rebus Netherlands

Rebus (Resource Efficient Business Models) is a project funded by the EU Life, based in Netherlands and UK. EU Life is a European Union financial fund, born in 2014, for environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU.

Rebus Netherlands has the goal to better understand the business opportunities for circular economy and the associated business models in order to inspire and convince buyers to consider all the opportunities in a product life-cycle. Their major areas of interest are: ICT, construction, textile, office and catering.

We obviously focused on the ICT area and their pilot project: finding a way to reuse the surplus of the Government's electronic equipment. In fact every year Dutch government destroys about 30, 000 ICT devices in surplus, that’s because of the sensible information contained in those devices. This operation is made 100% by the DRZ (Government office for the management of properties), for security reasons, they shred the devices and sell it as raw material [8].

The content of the project is to repair those devices and safely clean them from sensible information in order to sell it as second hand product on the government platform. The pilot project has been made for 500 Laptops. The DRZ cleaned them thanks to a certified software “Blancco” and sold them on the government platform “www.domeinenrz.nl” [9]. Even if the results of their pilot project are encouraging, some obstacles however still exists to implement this project to all ICT government devices.

SnapCar

SnapsCar is a start-up company that offers a platform for car sharing where users can share the use and the costs of a car. This platform has more than 6, 500 users in Den Haag and it is the biggest platform for car sharing. Generally the main reason to enter in this platform is costs saving for people, but there is also the social aspect of sharing and creating communities in the neighborhood. The company has an ambitious goal for a start-up: reduce 1% of the amount of cars in Europe. Their statement is that in Europe about 250, 000 cars are used for just one hour per day, so using car sharing would equal less cars, reducing CO2 emissions and getting people to know each other [10]. Our interest for this initiative is not due to the car itself but for the concept of sharing objects and tools that have a low use rate, such as washing machines.

FairPhone

FairPhone is a Dutch crowdfunded company started in 2013. The company “aim to create positive social and environmental impact from the beginning to the end of a phone’s life cycle.” The company's vision is to make long lasting phones under good working conditions with fair materials that are recyclable and reused [11].

The company is not a charity and is out there to make profit, which is an important aspect according to the company. It needs to make profit in order to prove to the market that a sustainable approach can also be successful. FairPhone has released two smartphones, FairPhone 1 and FairPhone 2. The FairPhone 2 was released in 2015 and was the world's first modular smartphone available for commercial purchase. A modular phone is a phone made of components that can easily be upgraded or replaced. The FairPhone 2 is made of seven components, all replaceable and will in the future be upgradable as well. The company is also taking back old or broken components for either repair or recycling [12]. While other smartphone manufacturers are trying to become more sustainable, a recent study by the organization Good Electronics shows that no other smartphone comes close to the FairPhone when it comes to sustainability[13].

RevSpace, Den Haag

RevSpace, or Revolution Space, is a non-profit foundation, started in 2009. The aim of RevSpace is to facilitate a project and meeting space in The Hague for hobbyists and researchers in technology, science, art and culture. In an interview we did with one of the members of RevSpace, it was pointed out that you do not have to be an expert to join the foundation and that the idea behind RevSpace is that it is a place for social gathering where people meet and have the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas.

It is common for the participants to organize presentations and lectures about electronics, software and engineering. Non-members can also host lectures in the facilities. They also have a workshop where the members can work on different projects either alone or together. RevSpace provides multiple tools, materials and machines such as a 3D-printer and a laser cutter that would most likely would be too expensive for the members to buy themselves. The interior design is also done by the members and consists of different kinds of sculptures made from old scrap, neon lighting and wall paintings.

Broken electronic devices are in most cases repaired instead of thrown away. When it comes to E-waste, the members of RevSpace disassemble and sort electrical waste themselves.

Secondhand store owner, Den Haag

When we went through Den Haag looking for other sustainable initiatives, we came across a so called ‘kringloopwinkel’ which is some kind of second-hand store. Inside we asked some questions to the owner of the establishment.

The owner wasn’t aware that she was doing something sustainable because she just sees it as a business. They only accept functional items and they first check the item before they try to sell it. They are not interested in broken or even repairable things. For the good items like very new electronics they give money, because they still have a chance to get profits. Especially the very new phones can be sold quick. Other older items are only accepted without payment. Her business is now going good. New electronics and different marketing strategies haven’t affected her business in any way and she has no need for anything else. She said she is very happy with the space she got. For beginners in the business she did advise to have enough space and a large starting capital.

3. Vision on E-waste

Visions

At this point of our research, we started to understand there are multiple visions behind every initiative. The FairPhone, SnapCar and the second hand shop are initiatives mainly driven by business, while RevSpace is an initiative driven by social communities, hobbies and knowledge sharing. On the other hand, GreenPeace’s campaign on greener electronics is driven by sustainability and changing the way electronics manufacturers approach this challenge, while Rebus is a governmental initiative for companies that also achieve sustainability .

From the initiatives that we studied we started find some points that are critical to achieve circularity. One of the greatest problem right now is the complexity of the electronic waste. It complicates disassembling and increases recycling costs. Right now, to few manufacturers does not reflect about this stage of a device life when they are designing it. To makes recycling profitable, one necessity is to force manufacturers to take this problem into account.

Another crucial point is sharing, which seem to be is a common point for the initiatives we found. In fact, sharing between members of a community creates a circle that empowers itself, creating cohesion in the community and motivating the willingness to share even more.

Finally, we discovered that circularity is right now, not very profitable. Sometimes however, circularity can directly be a business opportunity, making people involved, without actually knowing it has sustainability outcomes, like the second-hand shop in Den Haag.

To come up with our own vision, we first have to define what a vision is. The Business dictionary defines it like “An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action” [14]. So, in order to define our vision, we have to set our goals, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, this vision will be an inspiration for the future but also a realistic and achievable goal in the long-term.

Our Vision

The future of e-waste, is a future where we give back value to used electronic devices, where e-waste would be seen as a source of components and resources and not as waste. In our future, citizens actively participate in circularity, favoring repair instead of substitution when possible. Citizens will help each other disassembling broken devices in  local recycling shops, breaking down recycling costs and also assures that the E-waste stays in the country and does not get shipped away and sold unregulated. In those recycling shops, functioning components could be identified and sold back to manufacturers in order to refurbish other devices. The broken, non reusable parts could be sent away to local recycling centers where they will be transformed in raw material.

In our vision we also see the importance of sharing in order to decrease people consuming and using. In the car sharing initiative, we can see that this can work with big objects that are not often used, for instance, washing machines. Furthermore, in our future vision, it will be finally necessary that companies sees the importance of all life stages in electrical products, where they adopt a ‘design-to-disassemble’ mindset, helping solving the increasing complexity in electronic devices.

4. Follow-up interviews

With this vision in mind we started to reach out to experts in the field. We arranged interviews to get a better understanding of the problems with our vision and the opportunities we need to grasp.

Ger Kwakkel, Municipality Den Haag

Ger and his team has accepted an assignment to improve the Binkhorst garbage collection area. It will become an area that not only deals in trash, but also provides facilities for products that are still functional or could be repaired, and put on sale. The terrain is mainly meant to be used for building materials and related products. This whole concept is of course for the circularity in Den Haag.

We heard about this concept in the third Cirkelstad meeting and we asked him some questions about it, because it is very similar to what we wanted to achieve for e-waste. He told us that at the end of his meeting his conclusion was that a fixed refurbishment location may not be the best idea. There are a lot of nuances in play that affect the effectiveness of the system. If people treat the products too roughly because they are not aware of the value it would be a shame. Businesses that currently work with e-waste can be affected negatively as well. They could be hesitant to work with it because they are afraid of this change. All this does apply to building waste however. This was his subject. E-waste could be very different, because it is a high-tech product of which people take way much care. For the correct answers real life examples need to be found.

Marleen Lodder, Erasmus University

In our research we already encountered some difficulties in the e-waste subject and finding a sustainable solution for it. E-waste of course originates from electronics. This means that the big electronics companies like apple, Samsung or others have most of the influence in the sector.

That is why we approached Marleen Lodder. She is a specialist on large corporate economy in the Erasmus university. We explained to her that we are looking into making the lifecycle of electronics circular, but we found out that much of this control lies with the giant electronics companies. How should we deal with that?

She explained that changing the view and thereby funding of big companies is all about business strategies and money. It is very difficult to change this unless the market and the money dictates it. Even if they say they want change, they will wait and postpone until the most profit can be gained. That is why she advised to find or even start companies that work in the direction we want them to work. In our case we need sustainable electronics companies. This could be very hard to find at first, but when these companies do well the bigger ones will follow very soon. More strategies to change large economics can be found in the book “ondernemen van transities” proposed by Marleen.

Hilde Vogelzang, Hilde Vogelzang verbindt en versnelt

One of the solutions we found could be effective in decreasing the costs of recycling electronics is by putting ordinary citizens to work for us. They could start the disassembly process, which makes recycling that much more attractive.

Hilde Vogelzang has a company that deals a lot with people. She might know how to get people to do something sustainable. We approached her and explained that we are looking into making the lifecycle of electronics circular. To do this we wanted to have the general public involved. Since you have a lot of experience in public service and people management, can you give us any tips or tricks to tackle our situation?

The first thing she mentioned is of course that almost everything can be done with money. And when dealing with the general public it is almost the only and most effective way of convincing them. In general people need some kind of reward to act. There will always be some that do want to help however. These are the idealists or hobbyist, but you can’t rely on them to make the system work. Besides this we need also need to invest time and effort in educating people, which will be a big cost. In the end it is probably better advised if we organize a company that works with e-waste separation and which can provide place for other volunteers to help if they want to, but the company must be able to function on its own.

5. Final remarks

In chapter three of this assignment a vision was given to improve the e-waste situation in Den Haag. It was developed on the basis of some interviews we held and the initiatives we found in Den Haag or affecting Den Haag. The vision is as follows.

The recycling of e-waste will not only be the concern of distant companies, but the consumers of the products need help to start the process. This could for instance be that they repair or disassemble their own items. The process can be then combined with a second hand shop to sell any functional equipment. The final part of the vision is to change the design of electronics to better facilitate upgradability and disassembly.

After forming the vision we had the opportunity to ask some experts in the field a few questions about the vision. Out of these conversations we can conclude that the vision should change a little bit, because we were too optimistic about the changes. Change isn’t that easy to achieve, when the current system is easier. Hilde Vogelzang mentioned that it is very difficult to get ordinary citizens engaged in our vision if there isn’t any monetary reward for it. Morals could drive a some, maybe even most, but not everybody. The vision should therefore have a business plan, even without customers, to make it realistic. This is reinforced by the advice of Marleen Lodder. She warned us about wanting to change the big companies. They are only interested in good business. So, in the transition towards change we should first approach small companies that already want to change and they will convince the big companies in turn.

In the next assignment we will look at the lifecycle and what the critical points we can uncover there. The third assignment will come back to what we found here and will formulate the definitive vision with it.

6. References

[1]

https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Circular%20Economy%20Web%2011.11.pdf

[2]

http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=26816&ArticleID=35021

[3]

http://efface.eu/sites/default/files/EFFACE_Illegal%20shipment%20of%20e%20waste%20from%20the%20EU.pdf

[4]

http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/Ewaste-Briefing-Book.pdf

[5]

http://download.cbs.nl/pdf/green-growth-in-the-netherlands-2015.pdf

[6]

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/detox/electronics/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/Green-Gadgets/

[7]

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/detox/electronics/solutions/

[8]

http://www.rebus.eu.com/

[9]

https://www.pianoo.nl/themas/maatschappelijk-verantwoord-inkopen-duurzaam-inkopen/mvi-thema-s/circulair-inkopen/aan-slag-met-circulair-inkopen/rebus

[10]

https://www.snappcar.nl/

[11]

https://www.fairphone.com/en/our-goals/

[12]

http://www.dw.com/en/fairphone-creator-success-is-a-signal-to-industry/a-3617418

[13]

http://goodelectronics.org/news-en/2018fair2019-smartphones-compared-fairphone-scores-better-than-tco-certified-smartphones

[14]

http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html

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