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No waste: improving our appliance recycling system

Every year we throw away about 2 billion tons of waste worldwide. That is a huge destruction of raw materials and has a big impact on the environment. A circular economy, in which raw materials and products are reused as much as possible, would be a solution. Remanufacturing is one of the major pillars of a circular economy. Remanufacturing is a process, in which used products are disassembled and its parts – if necessary repaired - form the basis for new products. Examples are refillable cartridges or the fair phone consisting entirely of replaceable modules.

no waste
no waste

Unfortunately, remanufacturing is not getting off the ground in many companies. Causes for that lie with both producers and consumers. The Groningen researcher Stuart Zhu wants to find answers to questions like “how can we make more companies start remanufacturing?” and “how can we get consumers return their discarded products to the manufacturer?” He hopes alumni will support his research.

Little is known about the first mile

"Remanufacturing can generate some complex problems," explains Stuart. "You have the so-called ‘last mile’ - that is how a product ultimately reaches the consumer. A lot of research has been done on this. In fact, that ‘last mile’ is the ‘first mile’ of the return channel. But little is known about that ‘first mile.’ There are several options: return to the store, send to the producer, or pick up from home. What is more efficient and what do consumers prefer? The latter appears to be popular in China but not in Europe and we don't know why," says Stuart.

Financially and legally, there are all sorts of hooks on remanufacturing. "The larger, established companies in particular are afraid that they will lose sales and market share. If they make their products in such a way that you can replace parts, then competitors can also copy those parts more easily. Moreover, the producers cannibalize their own market if they offer both new and recycled products. Companies realize that they need to be better equipped to make the right decisions about remanufacturing and that they need the support of legislations," explains Stuart.

How Stuart will tackle the problem

That is why Stuart wants to do research at a number of companies in Europe and China. He wants to examine the different processes, from design and production of a product to the consumer, and back again. In this way, Stuart hopes to be able to formulate optimal strategies, with attention to differences per market and region, for both companies and governments.

"Companies will have to switch to more reuse. The government forces them to, both in Europe and China. Moreover, it is the best strategy in the long term. Producers and governments can make the right choices with the right tools. I hope to be able to give them one of those instruments," says Stuart.

Stuart Zhu is affiliated with the Faculty of Economics and Business of the UG and conducts research on Sustainable Supply Chain Management, Production Planning,Inventory Control and Marketing-Operations Interface.

Last modified:04 July 2023 12.20 p.m.
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