Beyond Recycling: How “Circularity” is Reshaping the E-Waste Fight

The amount of e-waste that the world generates

The amount of e-waste that the world generates — and the lost economic potential from that waste — is staggering. An estimated 50 million metric tons of e-waste was generated in 2018, up from roughly 41.8 million metric tons in 2014. Most of this waste ends up in a landfill, or worse, on open land and in bodies of water. Tracking this waste is something that much of our industry ignores, and roughly 80 percent of it isn’t documented.

Those 50 million metric tons represent about $63.4 billion worth of raw materials. If companies recovered even a portion of those materials, it could translate to big savings and less waste.

Transparent sustainability

At Seagate, we work hard to be transparent in our sustainability efforts, and to operate as a business with integrity for all of our stakeholders. We publish an annual Global Citizenship Annual Report (GCAR); the 2018 update, Sustainable Datasphere, highlights the steps we take to improve the parts of the world impacted by our business.

One of those steps is integrating the thinking behind a circular economy into our products and processes. What is circularity? This concept refers to making products that can be repurposed at the end of their life or use phase — preserving finite resources and extending the life of a product or material. Circularity is about more than just recycling, however — parts can be reused, raw materials and components can be harvested and drives can be refurbished.

Circularity is applicable for many companies in our industry, not just drive manufacturers. Most can implement some amount of circularity efforts, and many have. The process not only aims to help companies save money, but also reduce their e-waste footprints and conserve resources.

Circularity is Reshaping the E-Waste Fight

Creating a circular economy and tracking e-waste isn’t easy. It requires an economic incentive for companies to get behind it, designing products to support circularity, and enabling supply chains to do their part as well. And it’s not just companies that must be accountable — countries also have a responsibility. Legislation around the world varies significantly, which makes it hard to enforce standards in e-waste governance, and can drive further illegal actions.

It’s imperative that Seagate and other companies take action

That lack of enforcement affects not only the environment, but everyone living in those communities. Illegal dumping and disposal of e-waste, for example, often involves burning the material, creating more air and water pollution. In many countries, these “backyard” operations employ families, including children and expectant mothers, who are exposed to dangerous toxins that can cause illnesses and birth defects.

Seagate key value pillars — Integrity Innovation InclusionThese negative impacts on both people and the environment show why it’s imperative that Seagate, and other companies that create e-waste, take action. These efforts are aligned with one of Seagate’s key value pillars, Integrity, because a circular economy goes beyond just planet and profit, and impacts people all over the world, requiring a collaborative effort by companies and their suppliers.

At Seagate, we work with the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), our supply chain partners, advisors, and other tech industry leaders to combat waste and implement the most efficient processes for recycling, reusing, refurbishing, and reclaiming our products and their components. We have several circularity projects in the works already with top customers, one of which successfully demonstrates the ability to harvest components from scrap drives to build new ones.

What we do every day

Seagate employees are making an impact today, by executing these established practices and by making it their job to continue learning more about new strategies for circularity and e-waste issues. Engineers think about designing with circularity in mind. Customer-facing employees communicate about recycling programs with their networks.

Every employee, in every organization, has an impact on circularity processes. The more awareness we can spread throughout the technology ecosystem, the better our business and our stakeholders will be for it.

Learn more at Seagate’s Global Citizenship page, where you’ll find the link to the latest GCAR.


About the Author:

Joan Motsinger
Joan Motsinger is Seagate's senior vice president of Business Excellence. Motsinger is an accomplished business excellence, operations, and supply chain leader with over 30 years experience. She and her team have responsibilities spanning EHS & sustainability, real estate and facilities, product cost, and identifying strategic options for the business. Given its commitment to responsibility and sustainability, Seagate is a full member of the Responsible Business Alliance, and Motsinger is currently vice chair of the board.