Sustainable Supply Chains

Recycling spurs innovation
E-waste recycling strategies can affect supply-chain relationships, says Zhaohui Wu, OSU business professor. (Photo: Karl Maasdam)

E-waste recycling strategies can affect supply-chain relationships, says Zhaohui Wu, OSU business professor. (Photo: Karl Maasdam)

Recycling isn’t just for consumers. Manufacturers are finding competitive advantages in what is known as “end-of-life product management,” says OSU business professor Zhaohui Wu. While dealing with old desktop computers and other high-tech cast-offs can be expensive, innovative companies are redesigning their products — and their supply chains — in response to “take-back” laws cropping up from the Pacific Rim to the European Union.

That’s one of the conclusions from a research team composed of Wu, Mark Pagell (former OSU professor now at York University) and Nagesh N. Murthy of the University of Oregon.

Wu specializes in business sustainability and supply chain management. In collaboration with the Green Electronics Council in Portland, Oregon, and the Chinese State Environmental Agency, he is studying e-waste policies at companies in the United States and China. He focuses on how recycling processes affect resource efficiency and supply-chain relationships.

Markets and supply chain designs dictate which recycling options are best, Wu and his colleagues note in a paper published in the journal Business Horizons in 2007. But the biggest gains come from redesigning products and processes to increase efficiency and to leverage the public’s desire for sustainability.

From California to the EU, manufacturers are increasingly required to take responsibility for their own products. Oregon’s e-waste collection system covers computers, monitors and televisions and is due to be operating by January 2009. Companies can run their own collection programs or participate in a state-run system. Either way, they will pay.

Recycling companies usually recover raw materials through a crush and separate process or disassemble products and sell components (computer chips, spare parts) back into the supply chain, says Wu. “Some original manufacturers choose to collect and recycle used electronics products on their own. This helps them to improve product design for more efficient recycling and even secure production materials when raw material becomes scarce.”

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