Identify possible routes to increase the value recovered from HDDs, from direct product reuse to metals recycling, for specific HDD product types, applications (server, data centers, portable, desktop, enterprise, telecom), and conditions at EoL.
Develop a decision tree to show the sequence of recovery choices being made from direct product reuse to metals recycling, including criteria being used to make the decisions and the handoffs required at each stage to realize value recovery.
Identify the current barriers to a safe, environmentally sustainable, economically feasible recovery system.
Identify next steps to demonstrate the feasibility of the system.
iNEMI's Metals Recycling Project team examined the contribution of metals recycling to overall value recovery from EoL electronics and how miniaturization, decreasing gold content, and product design are affecting metals recovery now and in the future. The team found that the viability of metals recycling (i.e., recovery of commodity metals) as the financial driver for collection and treatment of EOL electronics is low and decreasing rapidly. Many materials, such as rare earth elements, have a high cost for recovery compared to their metals market value, at current market prices, and, due to low value and lack of proven processing technologies, are not recovered at all.
Metals recovery is often supported by asset management activities (data destruction, logistics, and resale) that generate sufficient revenue to support the recycling enterprise. This approach of combining different sources of value can be taken even farther if the electronics community and its stakeholders work together to determine what an optimized, integrated value recovery system would look like. Such a system would include but not be limited to, product reuse, component reuse, recovery of metals and other materials, and, to facilitate all value recovery options, product design for EoL. Optimized EoL management must also include development of recovery technologies, information sharing within the system, supply chain incentives for collection, new pathways for collection, and coordinated pre-processing systems.
Such a value recovery approach and a community that supports it will be essential for creating a sustainable and circular economy. The Metals Recycling Project team noted that Dr. Eleanor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, has laid out a framework for developing voluntary, community-based solutions, involving adaptive, self-governing systems that effectively manage common pool resources. EoL electronics are common pool resources, i.e. resources that many different people and organizations rely on for their livelihood. Furthermore, electronics are embedded in the type of existing systems on which Ostrom based her framework: “complex, social-ecological systems” composed of multiple sub-systems at multiple levels that are relatively separable but interact to determine to produce outcomes and viability at the top level. This approach was selected as the basis for this and future projects, with the ultimate goal of creating pathways to sustainable electronics.
Through a community-based approach, this project will establish the groundwork for developing an implementable plan for a value recovery system for HDDs.