iNEMI Team Develops Reuse and Recycling Metric
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!
After evaluating existing recyclability and reusability metrics, the iNEMI Reuse and Recycling Metrics project concluded that the industry has limited means of practically assessing the circular economic value (recyclability, reusability, reparability and refurbish-ability) of information and communication technology (ICT) products. The project team has addressed this gap by developing a practical recycling metric that incorporates key factors to estimate relative impact of product design features as well as the ability to recover and return value to the market. Included in this metric are features that are within the product designer’s control, such as material choice and ease of liberation of components and materials, and those factors outside the designer’s control, such as the availability of recovery technologies in the markets where the product is placed. The resulting metric assesses the economic feasibility and physical practicality of returning value to the market from ICT products after their first use.
A critical area where other recycling metrics have fallen short is by failing to include the economic realities of recycling. A product’s or material’s potential to be recycled or repaired does not mean it actually is recycled or repaired. There are striking differences in recovery rates based on economics, driven primarily by:
- Value of the recovered material: Can the material be recovered? Can it be sold?
- Cost of liberation/separation: Can the materials be separated into clean streams? What does it take to liberate the materials (hazardous materials included)?
Any metric that does not consider these economic realities cannot support informed choices and enable improvement.
Assessment tool developed
While developing the Recycling and Reuse Metric prototype, the project team asked “What are we trying to measure?” The answer is that we are measuring the ability of the system to return value back to the market.
For electronic products, the system includes activities and decisions by the product designers, the recovery agents (1) and the return-to-market agents (2). The product designers select the materials and the assembly of those materials (i.e., form, fit, function). The recovery agents control the “how” and “if” of recovery, by investments in capital (tools, processes, handling and safety equipment), labor (training, hiring) and choices made based on the profitability of recovering whole products, product parts, assemblies and materials from e-waste. The return-to-market agents create the paths to return recovered materials back into the worldwide market.
The objective is to harvest as much value out of an electronic product as possible while reducing waste to a minimum. As with any interlocking system, there are situations where the objective of one actor conflicts with another in the value chain. The goal is to get them to work together to return the maximum total value.
How the recycling and reuse metric works
The Recycling & Reuse Metric project has developed a prototype assessment tool to gauge the ability to disassemble a product for repair and recovery of whole product, components and parts. The assessment is divided into three tiers: material choice, ease of liberation, and the available recovery technology. Regional factors have also been researched and incorporated into the assessment criteria. Additionally, the team reviewed the hierarchy of recovery, which impacts the ease of returning value to the market. This includes repair and reuse, parts harvesting, material recovery, or energy recovery/landfill.
The Recycling and Reuse Metric (R&RM) tool is configured with a simplified spreadsheet-based interface. A product criteria summary is provided in the overview worksheet. Each of the three main R&RM categories (material choice, ease of liberation, and available recovery technology) has a separate input page. Results are summarized in the product criteria worksheet along with sparklines and percent of range scores for the three categories.
The current tool is built using Microsoft Excel. It provides data connectivity and interfacing throughout the workbook and allows for logical operations to check and provide feedback to the user depending on the question and other input within the worksheets.
The Recycling and Reuse Metric project team is holding an end-of-project webinar January 23 and 24 to discuss the R&R Metric and demonstrate use of the tool. We will also discuss opportunities for beta testing and the next steps in metric development. Click here for webinar details and registration.
CARE Innovation conference paper
If you’d like to read more, download the Recycling and Reuse Metric project team’s paper — “A Practical Means for Assessing Circular Economic Value of an ICT Product” — presented at the 2018 Going Green — CARE Innovation Conference (November 26-29; Vienna).
- Recovery agents provide for repair, refurbishment, part harvesting, remanufacturing after first use, recycling and eventually return-to-earth services.
- Return-to-market agents take the materials from the recovery agents and sell or introduce that material back into the worldwide market.