Circular Economy at the Highest Level

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Circular Economy at the Highest Level

Home » Circular Economy » Circular Economy at the Highest Level

Circular Economy at the Highest Level

When we buy jewellery or other items containing gold and silver, they are highly likely to originate from a computer. Two-thirds of all gold and silver used in new products comes from recycled precious metals from IT electronics. Tier1Asset and Stena Recycling are showing the way to circular economy.

Large amounts of electronic waste generate global challenges

More than 1 billion computers have been sold on the market since 1975, and some 100 million are currently being manufactured annually worldwide.

IT waste contains many hazardous substances that generate environmental problems if they are not disposed of safely: lead, cadmium, mercury, brominated plastics and PCB.

IT waste stands for only 2 % of all waste. But it represents 70 % of all hazardous waste.

A total of 44.7 million tonnes of IT waste are produced worldwide every year – which corresponds to the weight of 4,500 Eiffel towers. Source

8.7 million tonnes of electronic waste is produced every year only in the EU. Only 2.1 million tonnes are collected and recycled via controlled systems. No one knows what is happening with the remaining 75 %. However, there is a lot that indicates that large parts of it end up illegally in Africa and Asia.

What these large quantities in practice mean is that the IT industry stands for 2 % of the overall CO2 emissions. This is the same figure as that of the aviation industry or the total meat production worldwide.

Tier1Asset – from Word to Action

6.6 million tonnes of illegal IT waste end up in Africa and Asia from the EU alone. With these dismal figures in mind, we visit Tier1Asset, a company that actually does something about the problem.

The visit is on a spring day with fresh wind and dazzling sun. The weather is almost symbolic of the visit: Tier1Asset is a fresh breath of air that, together with Stena Recycling, casts a new light on an industry that is in a great need of innovation and fresh thinking.

Tier1Asset buys used computers from companies all over the world. The employees make sure that all data are erased according to the strictest standards – and the computers are then anonymised in all the ways possible. The computers are cleaned physically, all of them are tested, faults, if any, are fixed, and the latest version of Windows is finally installed before they are packaged for resale.

CEO Peter Hemicke explains:

“The computers we buy typically come from very large customers. Customers who place high requirements on the quality and performance of their equipment. And they typically replace their equipment after a couple of years. This is why the computers are still on a par with many new computers – in particular, after they go through our process. We resell 90 % of the equipment we buy – after we extend its service life by around 7 years. This is good for the CO2 emissions and thereby for the environment. Our calculations are actually showing that we prevented the discharge of 36,000 tonnes of CO2 only last year. By comparison, the Danish Green Investment Fund has invested half a billion kroner in order to prevent the discharge of 96.000 tonnes of CO2.  source

Tier1Asset’s Head of Operations, Torben Vallentin, elaborates:

“We are here to offer our customers data security – and to ensure that everything is processed in an environmentally responsible manner. Without the environmental angle, we would not be able to do any business at all with any of our large customers. You see, sometimes we are talking about up to 60,000 units. These are branded products, which are quite simply subject to very strict environmental certification requirements placed by the manufacturer.”

Bills in plastic bags.

10 % of the devices received by Tier1Asset cannot be reprocessed for resale. In fact, this is the critical mass that ends up as electronic waste. Waste which, in many other cases, would be used in illegal activities. In Peter Hemicke’s opinion, this is something that is also happening in Denmark:

“You can’t imagine how many people want to lay their hands on IT waste. Sometimes we are visited by these shady types who are carrying around plastic bags full of cash. And they want to buy our waste. But this can’t happen under any circumstance. Because they will take whatever they can use and will then probably dump the rest somewhere on a beach in Africa. This is a worst-case scenario – and exactly what we avoid by working together with Stena Recycling.

Transparency and Documentation.

The cooperation with Stena Recycling is important to Tier1Asset for several reasons. Torben Vallentin explains:

“We can easily get better prices for the waste somewhere else, but without any control over or documentation about what happens with the waste. If even one computer can be traced to an illegal source with questionable environmental conditions, our company is done for. And so I just need to say here that things at Stena are under control. We at Tier1Asset are good at what we are doing, among other things, because we can invite our customers over and show them what it is exactly that we are doing at any given time. There is documentation every step of the way. Things are organised in the very same way at Stena, as well, which is our only cooperation partner that we gladly refer to when we talk to customers. After all, we have had customers over to Stena’s big installation in Halmstad, where they can clearly see that we keep our promises every step of the way. Together with Stena, we are best in class…”

Perfect cooperation is the cornerstone of circular economy.

Tier1Asset has cooperated with Stena since 2013, and the companies complement each other well. Peter Hemicke says:

“We had no transparency before we started to cooperate with Stena. It was therefore a bit unclear what was actually happening with our IT waste. We knew that we should go into the direction of higher transparency and thorough documentation in order to have credibility on the market. This is something that we first got in our cooperation with Stena, where we have security, traceability and reporting that is entirely consistent with our values.”

Søren Sørensen from Stena, who is Tier1Asset’s consultant, adds:

“After all, we also refer customers to Tier1Asset. Customers we could perhaps earn money on. But this is what makes the most sense with regard to the circular economy, where it is best to reprocess rather than just scrap. This is, by all means, the best solution in the long term.

There is avid talk around the table, and it is clear that the cooperation has many angles and potentials. Torben Vallentin interposes:

“Stena has been very active in the cooperation. They support our environmental objectives. They listen and contribute to the development of the operations. It is, after all, thanks to their thorough approach that we can give our customers extra security. We have a very thorough hard drive erasure process that is supplemented by Stena, which is responsible for the actual destruction of drives that cannot be reused. And yes – there is full documentation all the way down to individual device.”

There are many examples of the fruitful cooperation. Torben and Søren begin to talk about printers. Torben says:

“Sometimes we get very large batches of printers. In the past, this used to be a challenge because they contain toner, paper and lots of plastic. There are simply lots of fractions, and we were losing money on their disposal. Together with Stena, we found a solution where we could remove the toner and the paper. And then they could buy the printer…”

Søren from Stena adds:

“Yes, once the paper and toner were out, there was less processing for us to do. This saved time and was ultimately to Tier1Asset’s advantage.” Torben continues, “Yes, we are closing the cycle.”

The soft values and the future.

It was very early that Tier1Asset became aware that the global situation with regard to IT waste was unsustainable environmentally. Peter elaborates:

“Over the years, our focus has been on being part of the solution to the challenges posed by IT waste. We currently recycle 250,000 computers per year. This prevents the discharge of 36,000 tones of CO2 into the environment. Within five years, we expect to be up to 750,000 computers, thereby preventing the discharge of well over 100,000 tonnes of CO2.

But hard figures and facts are one thing. Behind them, there are people who make a daily contribution to a bit better world: Morten, Head of Asset Recovery Services at Tier1Asset, elaborates:

“We attract and retain employees because they feel that they contribute to making a difference. This is much more meaningful than just buying and selling some boxes with something. It means something… and, after all, the cooperation with Stena just makes us stronger. I think that our joint focus could make it possible for us to benefit a lot from an innovation day where we could invite our respective customers. There are a number of areas where our joint know-how can contribute to exciting new solutions.”

The talk continues, ideas burst into being, and towards the end of the visit, Peter concludes:

“After all, things are great because we do not need to audit Stena. We can do it, but in reality, we are not doing it – we rely on them, and our cooperation strengthens our company. So now we just have to take it from there and make things even better…”

More Tier1Asset articles about this subject

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