Recycling electronic waste - or e-waste - refers to discarded electronic devices. It can be anything from cell phones to refrigerators, including those which are destined for refurbishment, reuse, and resale. It is often perceived as a significant burden both for companies (financially) and the environment. Indeed, if improperly disposed of, electronic products pose multiple environmental hazards. They can contain potentially harmful substances like lead, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants, and the process of extracting these components is energy- and fuel-intensive.


The challenge of a cost-effective recycling strategy

Beyond the environmental impact, many companies worry about the effect of e-waste on their bottom line, particularly if they’re looking to dispose of electronic products in an environment-friendly way. The reality is that preserving the environment isn’t mutually exclusive with successful economics; sometimes they can actually go hand-in-hand. An effective e-waste management strategy based on re-use and remarketing will lead to reduced costs and therefore increased savings. 

With the widespread adoption of household electronic devices like laptops and smartphones, the urgency surrounding the disposal of e-waste is rapidly intensifying. In the European Union, for example, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream, with under 40% being recycled. 

In order to preserve the earth’s finite resources, it is critical to recover minerals and rare elements like gold and copper from electronic devices. Given its inherent complexity, the treatment of e-waste benefits greatly from the involvement of logistics companies, as they are well-positioned to improve the process and foster alignment across the entire ecosystem of stakeholders.


The role of logistics in the management of e-waste recycling

Logistics companies are involved at every step of the e-waste circular economy, helping to give electronic products a new life. By developing new material loops, logistics providers allow new players to work together in order to build the foundation that ensures that as little electronic components as possible go to waste. 

Logistics companies also play a critical role when it comes to reverse value chains. Reverse value chains (also called reverse supply chains) are best summed up by Harvard Business Review as “the series of activities required to retrieve a used product from a customer and either dispose of it or reuse it.” Logistics plays a key role in reverse value chains by managing the return of goods, the disposition of surplus or unused materials, and the disposal of waste or byproducts. 

Specifically, logistics providers are experts at handling the following activities: 

  1. Collection and transportation: collect e-waste on location and transport it to a designated disposal facility, such as a recycling or refurbishment center. 

  2. Tracking and reporting: monitor and track e-waste during transit and processing. They also provide the requested documentation for compliance, auditing and reporting (including a ‘Certificate of Destruction’ or ‘Certified Data Wiping Report’). 

  3. Compliance: logistics providers have a duty to comply with laws, regulations, contractual obligations, industry standards as well as internal procedures, wherever they operate and no matter the circumstances. Their clients can rest assured that e-waste activities will be handled according to the same strict standards. 

  4. Security and chain of custody: prevent theft or unauthorized access to data, through the implementation of strict security measures such as identification, labeling and tracking of products throughout the data wiping process, from collection to disposal. 

  5. Asset recovery: monitor and analyze. Logistics providers continuously search for the optimal ways to recover value from used and disposed electronics products.

  6. Coordination with actors involved in the disposal process: coordinate tasks between various stakeholders involved in the electronic recycling value chain — such as transportation and warehousing providers, recycling facilities, refurbishment centers, second market platforms and brokers — to ensure a smooth and efficient process.


In short, through their expertise in supply chain management, logistics providers can assist companies in disposing of e-waste while ensuring compliance with the intricate regulatory landscape that varies across regions and countries. By developing tailored solutions based on the specific regulatory requirements of each country, logistics providers can guide companies through customs procedures, import/export regulations, and waste disposal laws.


How GEODIS helps orchestrate electronics recycling?

As a one-stop shop solution for customers, GEODIS’ IT tracking system offers end-to-end product visibility and data analytics that can be easily downloaded and integrated in annual sustainability reports. 

GEODIS also identifies, selects, monitors and measures the performance of the different stakeholders in the e-waste reverse value chain, thus enabling all parties to minimize their costs and maximize the recovery of products. 

Electronic waste recycling is a complex process that requires careful planning, execution, and compliance with various considerations, including functional testing, refurbishing, data sanitization, remarketing, tracking, risk management and employee training. When managed properly, e-waste recycling can result in cost savings and value creation. And it can contribute to a more circular sustainable economy, all while ensuring security and full compliance with relevant regulations and industry standards.


How GEODIS develops the circular economy?

Actively involved in the circular economy, one of GEODIS primary activities revolves around the proper recovery of materials from electronic devices. Our expertise lies in the recovery of valuable materials such as gold from connectors and circuit boards, aluminum from frames and cases, and copper from heat sinks and power supplies. However, the focus extends beyond the retrieval of valuable elements. We also handle hazardous materials with utmost care, including lithium batteries, as well as mercury and lead present in back-light displays and soldering, respectively. Transporting such materials requires the expertise of professional logistics and secure storage facilities to ensure the safety of all parties involved. This is particularly crucial as degraded lithium-ion batteries, for example, possess a high combustibility risk. 

Once an electronic device arrives within a GEODIS processing center, we examine it in order to assign it for repair, refurbish or dismantle. We also leverage our multi-channel remarketing process with a network of +100 brokers and one e-commerce store.

In the realm of electronic waste recycling coordination, GEODIS plays a significant role by coordinating, monitoring and tracking key data from the beginning to the end of the process. Our capabilities enable us to track the volume of materials within the chain and efficiently coordinate all relevant parties involved. For instance, based on our operations in the Americas, we can ascertain that 10 million tons are present in the return chain, 2 million tons have been reused, and 8 million tons have been disassembled. While we do not directly execute these crucial tasks, our role lies in coordinating the necessary actors to ensure a smooth workflow. Furthermore, we actively contribute to safeguarding natural resources through the reuse of electronic materials. 


Logistics companies will guide the future of e-waste recycling

While logistics companies are not the sole entities responsible for the recycling, recovery, and safe disposal of electronic products, they undoubtedly play a crucial role as invaluable partners. Logistics companies serve as the driving force that keeps the circular economy in motion, ensuring the efficient flow of resources and enabling a sustainable management of e-waste. 


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