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Socially minded platform for the reuse and recycling of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE)

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Marketplaces for reuse and recycling of products in the circular economy

The Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) of the European Commission identifies a series of key product value chains to foster the "expansion of markets for circular products" (CEAP). The first of those value chains is electronics and ICT. Electrical and electronic equipment represents one of the fastest growing waste streams in Europe with a current annual growth rate of 2%. Less than 40% are estimated to be recycled in the EU (Source: European Parliament).

Considering that Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) is often discarded although fully or partially functional, the product life extension model extending the use period of existing products appears to present a high potential for impacting positively the circular transition of the economy. By maintaining and improving products through repairs, upgrades, remanufacturing or remarketing, companies can keep them economically useful for as long as possible, slowing the flow of constituent materials through the economy, and reducing the rate of resource extraction and waste generation.

One of the issues on this path is the operation of efficient marketplaces, which includes:

  • closing material loops thanks to a functioning return or take back chain,
  • an effective network of local field service partners for repair and refurbishment of devices,
  • ensuring access to users of repaired and refurbished devices.

Public administration contribution for a more circular use of Electrical and Electronic Equipment

Public administration appears to be a significant producer of electronic and electrical waste. According to the Waste Agency of Catalonia, “in the European Union, more than 40 million devices are discarded by the public administration, although they are 87% reusable and 93% potentially reusable. 95% go directly to recyclers, losing their traceability and impact in circular economy.

The Waste Agency of Catalonia, a partner in the Interreg Europe project SUBTRACT, contributes, together with other local partners, to a socially minded platform for the reuse and recycling of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE), which provides a comprehensive and effective solution for running a marketplace for the reuse and recycling of EEE from public administration.

The eReuse.org practice is articulated around the USOdy B2B tracing solution to account for and optimize the reuse and recycling of digital devices, which brings together the elements of the puzzle:

  • Using templates for transfer of ownership or possession of devices with different clauses to regulate circular and social impact specifying end-user target segments to be impacted.
  • Identifying target refurbishing organisations with proven impact accounting and redistributing devices transparently and efficiently.
  • Getting impact data and circularity reports with the traceability of devices over multiple owners and possessors without affecting privacy and ensuring data integrity in order to provide feedback to donors in terms of retribution and certificates on the circular impact of the transition (CO2 avoided, hours of extended usage, segment of final user beneficiaries, amount of hazardous waste recycled and recovered…).

eReuse.org managed to initiate a network of 100 donors, 18 refurbishers and 150 end-users, such as schools or libraries. During the year 2020 more than 5,000 thousand devices have been traced..

According to Vanessa Macarro and Alfred Vara Blanco from the Waste Agency of Catalonia, the USOdy web-based platform managed to overcome some of the most common weaknesses of reuse and recycling systems:

  • “The platform increases revenues of refurbishers aiming for financial viability. The services and devices do not come for free for the end-user. Donors allow refurbishers to charge a cost of management, refurbishing, distribution and traceability.” The public administration can support the system by donating devices rather than provide funding.
  • “The platform business model is the traceability service which is paid by the donors or by the refurbishers. The circular revenue model consists in paying an amount of 1€ per device per year in the traceability system. This covers the costs of obtaining the impact data and recording.”
  • “The platform manages the devices in a more circular way than simply distributing devices: The devices are tracked, maintained and ultimately collected back for recycling purposes.”
  • “The platform acts as a facilitator for the whole ecosystem of donors, refurbishers and end-users and enables fruitful collaboration among refurbishers rather than mere competition. Besides its environmental impact, the platform stimulates thereby the creation of better and more durable jobs in the refurbishing sector.”

A real positive impact, not only with respect to the reduction of waste

The USODdy.com platform claims outstanding results with respect to its primary objective, the reuse and recycling of EEE, by contributing to the increase of the reuse of administration’s EEE from 5% up to potentially 50% in the best scenario.

Going beyond, the practice also enables vulnerable users and groups to get access to refurbished equipment at an affordable price, which contributes to reducing the overall digital divide in the society and creates jobs at refurbishing organisations for vulnerable persons.

The practice is transferable to any region: all necessary technical resources (code, methodologies…) are available as free software eReuse.org. The Waste Agency of Catalonia is already promoting it in the framework of the SUBTRACT project.

A virtual tour of eReuse.org is available here.

Credit: Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels
Circular economy
European Union