SR article

Changing the governance of e-waste

In this assignment we will look at where the current initiatives in Den Haag can be placed in our lifecycle. We will also elaborate our vision further and present which steps there are to arrive to our vision. We will provide a timeline and discuss the problems with our vision. First however, we will summarize our first two assignments.

Table of content

  1. Summary of the first assignments
  2. Initiatives and their effect on the lifecycle
  3. Transition to our vision
  4. Discussion
  5. References

1. Summary of the first assignments

In our first assignment we acknowledged different initiatives that somehow affect the stream of E-waste in Den Haag. Firstly we looked at the non profit organization GreenPeace which is challenging the largest electronic manufacturers to make greener electronic devices. Secondly, we found out about the European Union-founded project called Rebus. Rebus took on the task to  to reuse the surplus of the Government's electronic equipment without exploiting any of the sensitive data on the devices. Another intriguing initiative is SnapCar, which is a car sharing company that has more than 6,500 users all over Den Haag. The relevant aspect of this initiative was the concept of sharing objects and tools to reduce costs. We also found out about a dutch phone manufacturer called FairPhone. When it comes to sustainability, FairPhone is by far the most sustainable smart phone manufacturer. Their latest model is a modular phone, which means that it is built out of easy accessible parts that are repairable, replaceable and upgradeable.

 

When we visited Den Haag to find more initiatives, we decided to give the non-profit foundation RevSpace a visit. RevSpace is a meeting place for anyone interested in technology, where you for instance can share ideas, work on projects, build or repair devices or just hang out with other members. The relation this initiative has to E-waste is the enthusiasm to share knowledge and to repair things instead of throwing things away. On our way to RevSpace we visited Kringloopwinkel, which is a store where they buy and sell second hand items such as electronic devices. The owner had no interest in broken but repairable items and had no intention of doing something sustainable, she mainly saw it as a way to make money. The owner  also gave us advice about having much space and a large starting capital if we would want to do something similar.

The last initiative we looked into was probably the most important one we came across. The initiative comes from the municipality of Den Haag and is organized by Ger Kwakkel and his team. The goal behind the project is to make Binckhorst, the largest garbage collection place in Den Haag, a facility for products that are still functional or could be repaired, and put on sale. This project has many aspects in common of what we want to accomplish with our own vision.

 

In our second assignment we showed that e-waste can be handled in a circular way, but that most of the times, that is not the case. The problems with the current lifecycle of E-waste is that there is an easier and cheaper way of getting rid of the E-waste compared to the sustainable and circular way. In assignment two, we divided the lifecycle of E-waste up in five divisions:

 

  • Materials
  • Design, manufacture and distribution
  • Consumer
  • Waste
  • Recycling

 

Each division had multiple steps that all affects the stream of E-waste and in assignment two we described those steps in detail. We also provided a new lifecycle where we described a scenario where the user consumers would disassemble components which then directly goes to regulated recycling instead of unregulated condition checks.

Our vision is that we want recycling centres around Den Haag, where classes are given on waste, recycling and disassembling and where equipment and space to disassemble is provided as well. The recycling place should also be a place for second hand selling and buying. We want to start with expanding one of the current recycling center by introducing the Fenix Reborn Electronic center, a place where electronic devices gets repaired, reused or properly recycled. Even if current systems provides recycling for E-waste, the disassembling process is not cost effective enough which is why E-waste is shipped to developing countries.

2. Initiatives and their effect on the lifecycle

In the next figure, we have added our initiatives to the lifecycle of E-waste.

SnapCar is a more sustainable alternative to owning and using cars which doesn’t affect the lifecycle of E-waste. The method of sharing could be implemented in other areas and on other items. We located it under Users/Consumers where the idea behind sharing items could increase the number of users per product.  

FairPhone is placed in the design section but affects all of the other sectors in one way or another. It has low impact on the material sector, because it is mostly made out of sustainable materials. The parts are also easily changeable and upgradeable which mainly affects the the consuming sector, but also all the other sectors. Broken parts are sent back to the manufacturer for recycling or repair which affects the recycling and material sector. The main approach the company has, is however to design a sustainable modular smartphone which is why we placed it in that sector. GreenPeace is also placed in this sector because the goal of their campaign is to make manufacturers more sustainable. Fairphone sets a good example of how GreenPeace wants manufacturers to produce electronic devices.  

RevSpace and Rebus Netherlands are placed within the consumers under repair shops and self repair. Nevertheless, through expanding the lifespan of electronics, exactly like FairPhone does with its upgradability, it affects all the other sectors of the E-waste lifecycle. Similar strategies are achieved through Kringloop because they collect reusable goods form the citizens and sell them in their stores. The garbage collection centre Binckhorst would close a loop between the first step of recycling and the Users/Consumers by connecting the first recycling step (condition check) with repair and secondhand shops. This initiative could substantially change the life cycle of E-waste in Den Haag by making used, thrown away electronics available to the citizens.  

3. Transition to our vision

The difference between our vision and the initiative of Ger Kwakkel and his team is that we want to find a sustainable solution on multiple levels. The Binckhorst garbage collection initiative is a step in the right direction for repairing and reusing products, but it doesn’t for instance solve the problem with unregulated and wrong E-waste recycling. We want, in addition to the Binckhorst garbage collection initiative, to educate and provide citizens with the necessary equipment as well as reward them for disassembling unrepairable devices that will later gets properly recycled. If the disassembling process is done locally, the scrap will also be handled locally instead of shipped abroad because the recycling process then becomes profitable. Educating people about this is also what we want to achieve by setting up the Fenix Reborn Electronic center. If this sort of thing becomes a trend and something people support, it would probably put pressure on manufacturers to produce more easily disassemblable products.

It’s obvious that it is impossible to implement our vision directly. The changes we need to achieve our vision are not only technical or business related, but there are also social changes, which are both time consuming and needs a lot of effort. The most difficult challenge will not be to provide the infrastructure for the system, but to engage the actors (consumers, government and manufacturer) in taking part of the changes. To be able to promote those behaviors and our vision, there are, according to a report by OECD called Promoting Sustainable Consumption, different tools [1]:

  •   Taxes and charges: This tool can be for example increasing taxes on less sustainable products, filling up the price gap and favorising the consume of more responsible goods.
  •   Mandatory or voluntary labelling: Introducing labelling containing information about the sustainability of the product could help to spread the consciousness to the consumers, it could be mandatory or voluntary, as an incentive. For example, the European policy on labelling household electronic on their energy performance could be extended to a “recyclability performance”.
  •   Subsidies and incentives: Funds, donations or tax reduction are intended to encourage consumers to take more responsible purchases, an example could be the French Velib project from 2007, placing 20000 free bikes in a thousand of stations around Paris to reduce traffic and pollution.
  •    Communication campaign: This type of tool is useful to make people conscious about issues and encourage a responsible behavior, for example about drinking and driving. A similar campaign could be considered for this type of issue, informing people about opportunities and problems about e-waste, encouraging a more responsible consume for electronics.
  •   Public procurement: The weight of state purchase on the national economy is quite strong, for this reason, one the initiators of those changes should be the government, in this way it will be easier to pull the market to more sustainable purchases.
  •    Education: It is important studying sustainability issues at the academic level, forming people with related skills and research about the subject. But another great contribution to the achievement of our vision would be creating consciousness and informing young people about e-waste and more generally sustainability problems, in this scheme, school would be a primary resource.

To achieve circular sustainability we need to mix those types of actions through time with three main goals:

  • Furnishing the infrastructure for the vision to work.
  • Encouraging consumers to buy more sustainable goods and actually use the Fenix Reborn Electronic center.
  • Encouraging manufacturers to design devices that are easy to recycle.

We have three different phases of this transition, first we need to ensure that the initiators can join the transition. Secondly, we need to push the transition forward, to increase the number of users. Finally we must institutionalize the changes, making them permanent.

The first, short-term step to initiate the transition would be offering a space in a recycling center, maybe in the Binckhorst site, to disassemble e-wastes, providing users with a reward (money payment or discount on products). A team would be there to help users for the disassembling, teaching them how to do it and giving them the right tools. The users could get rewarded for disassembling, repairing or selling their devices.

 

After some time, a communication campaign could be led by Den Haag municipality to inform and encourage citizens about the initiative and the weight of e-wastes on environment. At national level, it would be useful to create a label on electronic products with information and rating of the product. The label could inform about the recyclability and sustainability of the manufacturer (similar to the existing energetic performance one that is currently on certain products).

Once the initiators have adopted the change and if it is well supported, an increasing number of users would join the project, and it would be necessary to keep checking the users and adapt the size of the assigned space. In order to fill the price gap between normal and sustainable products, encouraging the consumers to buy those products and manufacturers to produce more sustainable devices, it could be useful to increase taxation on non-sustainable devices or decreasing it for the sustainable ones. At the same time switching all municipal electronic procurements to sustainable product would also influence manufacturers to develop greener products. Once a big majority of the products are sustainable, it will be possible, finally, to introduce mandatory regulations on “design-to-recycle”, comprehending a design thought for disassembling and the provision of a disassembling guide or an ingredient list, in addition to maintenance and use guide, that would be useful for the Fenix centers.

The proposed transition and change management are synthesized by the image below:

This planning of management of change is obviously going to need adjustments with time, but it can still be used as a general direction.

4. Discussion

Achieving our vision is not a simple task. The main concern with our vision is ‘how to motivate people without being too cost insufficient’. The best scenario would be if the Fenix Reborn Electronic center had complete economic circularity. Because of the valuables in old electronics and commonness of throwing away working or easily fixable electronics, economic circularity is possible, but very difficult to achieve. Workforce is expensive, which is why our vision relies partly on regular citizens doing some of the work. Their reward for helping would be more symbolic rather than having a economic value, and it is hard to make people do more labour compared to what they are used to, as of now when they just leave their electronics at the garbage and recycling station. This raises another concern, it can not be too complicated to throw away things the proper way, otherwise, people might just throw E-waste in the regular trash or even leave it out in the streets. In order to make the Fenix Reborn Electronic center to work, there has to be a fine balance between doing charity and get economically rewarded without being too expensive. Otherwise, people might not use it, or even worse, not recycle at all.

Trying to influence electronic manufacturers to create greener and more disassemblable products is also a hard task. There is a high demand for advanced and at the same time cheap electronic devices in our society. As components gets smaller and more complex, the harder and more expensive it will be to extract raw materials from the components. Perhaps it is not only the manufacturers that needs to change, but also the consumers and their demand. The FairPhone for instance, it is not the most advanced or beautiful product and it sold around 150 000 units during 2016. This is a large number for a small Dutch smartphone manufacturer, but nothing compared to Apples iPhone that sold 51.2 million devices only during the first three months of 2016. It would be naive to say that our vision could somehow change those numbers drastically, but making people aware of the E-waste problem and show that there are alternatives available might make people at least consider not buying a new phone every year.

This is the end of the last assignment in a report containing more than 9000 words. The research has been very interesting and we really think that we are onto something with the Fenix Reborn Electronic center. It has however been difficult to find valuable information on E-waste related to den Haag. The interesting initiatives and valuable information about the stream of E-waste are often on international and sometimes on national levels. This might be because E-waste is a relatively new phenomenon or it might be because most of the people (including ourselves before doing research) do not know that the waste doesn’t always get properly recycled after you leave it at a recycling site. Either way, we hope that further research is done and that there will be better documentation and reliable information about E-waste in den Haag. 

5. References

[1]http://www.oecd.org/greengrowth/40317373.pdf

 

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