Resilient supply chains allow manufacturers to limit dependence on overseas partners and instead focus on domestic resources. They also have more than one option for various components to prevent procurement issues when one supplier cannot meet demands. While a strong supply chain is important for reducing unforeseen delays and getting products to market on time, it can also benefit manufacturers when electronics reach the end of their lifespan. Although end-consumers, retailers, and other parties involved in commerce all play a role in recycling, the responsibility to end e-waste is increasingly shifting towards manufacturers. In recent years, Canadian governments have established Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) frameworks that put the burden of responsibility on producers. Here’s a closer look into how resilient supply chains help put those frameworks into action.
How to Build a More Resilient Supply Chain
To limit the global impact of e-waste and reduce the burden on consumers, manufacturers should build recycling into the supply chain. To do so, they should begin with a more recyclable product design and set of materials during the development stage. Specifically, consumer electronics should be more readily recyclable. Many electronics currently contain toxic materials or plastics that must be melted down for reuse, making the recycling process tedious and time-consuming. Moreover, the average consumer doesn’t have the know-how or equipment to disassemble electronics like computers, cell phones, and other electronics for recycling. Producers can minimize these challenges by designing electronics with recycling in mind, thereby supporting a circular manufacturing model which is inherently more resilient than traditional, linear manufacturing.
A more resilient supply chain also emphasizes domestic recycling. Currently, Canada exports e-waste to the U.S., where it’s combined with American waste and sent to Asia. Thus, although Canadian regulations were introduced in 2016 to ban the shipment of waste overseas without a permit, Canadian e-waste was still winding up on Asian shorelines as recently as 2019. Not only does Canada have an ethical obligation to minimize their e-waste impact globally, but by exporting e-waste, Canadian manufacturers are also missing out on a key opportunity to reuse critical materials in end-of-life streams, such as lithium batteries and rare earth metals.
Finally, technologies must be developed to help recover valuable materials in end-of-life electronics. For instance, recovering rare earth magnets from hard drives quickly and efficiently could help reduce the need for overseas sourcing to build a stronger, more centralized supply chain for electronics manufacturers.
Why Supply Chain Resilience Matters
Building products that are easier to disassemble and recycle and promoting domestic recycling will ultimately allow producers to source more materials domestically. By limiting the exportation of electronics, Canadian producers can reuse rare earth metals instead of sending them overseas. These and other valuable materials can then be leveraged for the development of new products, creating a resilient supply chain with much less dependence on foreign suppliers.
For example, lithium batteries found in cell phones, laptops, and other e-scrap could help fuel the increasing demand for electric vehicle batteries. Within the next decade, lithium demand is anticipated to increase six-fold. Currently, most of the supply for battery metals is sourced from China, but with a closed-loop supply chain, producers can begin sourcing these materials from the e-waste generated domestically.
To achieve these goals, Canadian manufacturers can look to tech leaders like Lenovo and HP, who have already established closed-loop recycling processes. Nonetheless, while there is already an electronic stewardship program in place, there’s still much work to be done. Only a fraction of their products are made from fully recycled or recyclable materials, indicating the need for further innovation in design.
While Canada remains a top performer in recycling end-of-life electronics, where the products recycled matters, too. Shifting the focus to domestic recycling will help to not only reduce e-waste, but also strengthen the supply chains of Canadian manufacturers to support business growth.
As a company that offers both ITAD and recycling services, Quantum helps Canadians increase opportunities for circular manufacturing while also reducing the risk of data leaks. Find out more about our PRO product take-back programs and other solutions for producers here.