Creating a Repair Society

Policies, networks and people

Reaping What WEEE Sow

Finding spare parts is a often cited as a significant barrier constraining the upscale of repair and refurbishment. Spare parts used in repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing can be: 1) original, newly manufactured OEM parts; 2) third-party manufactured aftermarket parts (“copy”), and; 3) directly reused or refurbished spares harvested from products.

Waste from electrical and electronic equipment (‘WEEE’ or ‘e-waste’) can be a potential source for spare parts, potentially with added benefits of avoided the environment impacts of producing new parts and in some cases saving repairers money (and maybe avoiding a lawsuit, if it means you know where your parts are coming from).

But how is this done in practice, and what are the barriers to upscaling harvesting of spares from WEEE?

We talked to a range of stakeholders in Sweden, Norway and California to compare experiences in harvesting spare parts from WEEE. The main findings are part of paper and presentation at the PLATE Conference May 25-28, 2021.

Harvesting spare parts from WEEE: the sources, the process and the uses. Source: authors

Some key takeaways:

Volumes are still low for spares from WEEE, but expected to grow. Harvesting is time sensitive (as products become obsolete, so do their spare parts), hibernation (i.e. that phone in your drawer) is a major barrier to supply.

It is a constant challenge to match supply of spares with the demand for spares. The most advanced organisations were actively seeking markets for spares they could harvest, rather than only responding to requests.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws in the EU mean that producer responsibility organisations have a lot of influence on which recyclers and reuse organisations have access to the WEEE. At the same time, as we have found previously, having only recycling targets in these laws also mean there is little incentive for PROs to prioritise reuse and harvesting spares for reuse.

Even in a system, like California’s, without EPR laws, some OEMs can restrict recyclers from reusing their products through influencing who retailers choose as recyclers or directly through their own contracts with recyclers.

The process of harvesting requires skills and knowledge, requiring training. Most organisations did not see this as a barrier and were able to train staff.

The process involved manual labour, which in the Nordic context also came with high labour costs. We found repair and reuse organisations often involved a social or environmental aspect to their work, e.g. communicating about the environmental impact savings of reusing or partnering with social enterprises.

What’s the next step? We will expand this study to include all examples of reuse of spares (not just from waste) to further explore the different business models and how policies can help upscale harvesting of spares.

Want the full conference paper? Get in touch with us!

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Repair Barriers

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