Establishing a reverse supply chain for electronics

BY-NC 2.0 Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Re-Tek Establishing a reverse supply chain for electronics

Re-Tek provide reverse logistics and data destruction services for redundant IT equipment. Refurbishing equipment for re-sale or donation to charitable causes, Re-Tek divert equipment from energy hungry recycling processes, extend the life of the asset and minimise environmental impact.

Incentivised return is a circular economy business model that offers a financial or alternative incentive for the return of used products, which are then refurbished and re-sold. For nearly 20 years, Re-Tek has concentrated on making the disposal of IT products and electronics easy, by successfully repairing those which are functional, and selling them on.

Set up initially to work with large original equipment manufacturers, the company now processes 20,000 ICT items per month, in a custom built 26,000 ft facility, which, as a result of an extensive investment programme, is now powered by 80% renewable energy. Ensuring their clients’ data security, and offering reuse as a viable method of asset retirement, Re-Tek is able to share the revenue gained with the equipment’s previous owners.

Currently employing 50 people, the company has repair and refurbish expertise and sales channels across all types of IT equipment, including networking and storage as well as handheld, laptops, PCs and monitors.

Re-Tek currently source most of their products from medium to large sized organisations in the UK and Europe and has major clients across all industry sectors including the Financial Industry, Oil & Gas and Pharmaceutical, as well as public sector bodies such as local authorities, universities and the NHS.

Of all the equipment received, approximately 80% progresses to be re-marketed. Only equipment which is completely non-functional, or has no market value goes to conventional recycling partners, and whenever possible, a non-functioning item is harvested for spare parts – thus the resulting landfill is just 1%.

This approach also means that good quality, high spec assets are available to be sold on or re-deployed to secondary emerging markets, charities and under privileged UK communities that are the target of the Government’s digital inclusion strategy.

This circular economy business model adopted by Re-Tek has been recognised by the Institute for Environment and Sustainability of the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) who recently conducted a site visit to Re-Tek’s premises and identified the processes and systems as being best practice.

As a result of Re-Tek’s market-leading expertise in the re-use of Business IT, the company is now involved in a number of collaborative trial projects aimed at applying repair and refurbishment expertise and developing new, innovative models for collecting and processing IT items from the consumer market. These trials have been funded by Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS), the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and most recently DTS. Re-Tek also recently won an Innovate UK competition assessing consumer behaviour towards IT disposal and how to construct the best business models for the capture, repair and refurbishment of Consumer WEEE. Re-Tek believe that these projects will deliver commercially viable methods that have the potential to divert significant volumes of household IT EEE that is no longer required, from recycling (and potentially landfill) to the re-use approach.

Donating old IT equipment for reuse offers the potential energy savings of between 5 and 20 times of those gained by recycling, and obviously extending the life of electrical items is by far the best way to maximise a product’s economic value.

Research indicates that the average desktop computer and monitor requires at least ten times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture. In comparison, a new car or a fridge needs only twice its weight

- Zero Waste Scotland

WEEE is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in Europe and of particular concern because of the loss of valuable Critical Raw Materials (CRMs). Re-Tek is helping to address this issue by creating a commercially viable business that diverts perfectly useable IT items from landfills and recycling centres, while providing income for both themselves and other organisations.

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Company info

  • Established in 1996
  • HQ in Glasgow, Scotland
  • Employs around 50 people
  • Diverts ~ 250,000 units of IT equipment from landfill each year

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