Better collection can improve rates of reuse

None of the three stages of the circular economy – reduce, reuse and recycle – are perfect. Globally, efforts by manufacturers to reduce the environmental effects of the production processes and use of their equipment is progressing but it’s still relatively slow.

As for recycling, again, there is still too much e-waste going to landfill or being burned. That’s not an assumption, it’s a fact. The latest Global E-Waste Monitor report from the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) revealed global e-waste had already hit 53.6 million metric tonnes in 2019 and is forecast to reach 74 metric tonnes by 2030.

According to GESP, only 17.4 per cent of e-waste was formally collected and recycled in 2019, adding that “iron, copper, gold and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at US $57 billion — a sum greater than the gross domestic product of most countries – were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse in 2019.”

Which brings us to what seems to be the most neglected component of the cycle: reuse. While the market for refurbished equipment is growing and becoming more acceptable to ordinary people, there’s no doubt that more could be done to give IT equipment a second life. And extending the life of equipment is one of the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of IT overall.

In that context, I had an interesting conversation with Max Kyck, general manager of KMK Metals Recycling, on the subject of reuse of IT equipment recently. The company is a big player in the Irish waste management industry, collecting 75% of Ireland’s waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

He had some interesting thoughts on how to help improve understanding and adoption of reuse with a specific focus on the collection system for reuse. “It needs to be looked at,” he said, “and it needs to be done at the source. Reuse can only happen at a certain level, especially with the labour force and cost of labour in Ireland. So the decision for reuse has to be at the front end.”

There’s a very simple explanation for this. “The more hands the equipment passes through, the more difficult it is [for it to go to reuse] and the more likely it is to be broken up,” Kyck explained. He revealed that KMK Metals Recycling is looking at running a trial that would give customers the option to click a button on its website if they want to donate their equipment to the company’s reuse facility.

If they take that option, KMK would use a different collection process than if it collected material for recycling where there is no requirement for a white glove service or to try and protect the equipment. “It came to me over a coffee and a chat about the website,” he told me. “We don’t get calls in from people asking us to collect materials for reuse.”

Kyck added that the company has also looked at making reuse more prominent at special events, such as waste collection weekends held with local GAA clubs. “We’ve discussed putting in a reuse cage, a special bin or crate for reuse, so we get it straight from the person.” If there is no reuse value, the equipment could be used for parts instead, although he half-jokingly acknowledged: “We could end up down a rabbit hole where we have half a warehouse full of parts.”