Panelists at the Mobile Repair Day event that took place this week during the E-Scrap & E-Reuse Conference. | Big Wave Productions/E-Scrap News

More than 1,200 electronics sustainability professionals – representing repair shops, ITAD firms, recyclers, OEMs and others – are gathering this week at the E-Scrap & E-Reuse Conference.

This year’s event brings together two annual shows that are typically held at different times in the fall. 

By holding the E-Scrap Conference (produced by Resource Recycling, Inc.) and the E-Reuse Conference (produced by E-Reuse Services) as a single joint-venture show, conference organizers aim to connect leaders across the recycling, refurb and reuse ecosystem as market factors drive the need for greater cohesion throughout the industry.

That sense of integration among stakeholders, in fact, was at the center of many of the on-stage conversations as the conference kicked off Monday.

“In order for us to really achieve our carbon goals and our customers’ goals, we have to come together,” said Cassie Gruber, director of business solutions at Jabil, Inc., a manufacturing solutions provider.

She added that she sees a role for recyclers, ITAD companies, tech startups, manufacturers and others in the larger quest to reduce the environmental impact of devices. 

Gruber was speaking on Monday’s closing panel, discussing electronic product sustainability moving into the future, and her comments received an enthusiastic response from the session’s moderator, Amanda Buros, director of OEM solutions at ITAD and e-scrap company Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations.

“We want to be part of that conversation ” Buros said, “Taking that to the next level would be great.”

In-depth on repair

The 2023 E-Scrap & E-Reuse Conference, which runs through Wednesday, started Monday with a variety of workshops and sessions, as well as Mobile Repair Day.

Mobile Repair Day is a special slate of sessions and networking activities geared toward managers of device repair shops. Topics covered in that segment of the show included insight on finding new repair opportunities, developing a strong staff, analysis from Samsung and other device makers, and more.

Scott Head, director of parts development and operations at repair hub iFixit, led a panel of experts discussing emerging business verticals for repair professionals. 

For instance, as automobiles continue to integrate more electronic components, new opportunities are opening for fixing those types of devices. The same is true for appliances.

“There are people looking for other types of repairs that we have not traditionally focused on,” Head said.

In the device sustainability session closing out the day, Scott Shackelford, design for repair engineer at Google, said reuse and recyclability are becoming increasingly appealing objectives for product designers. That trend is tied to Google’s ongoing emphasis on product life longevity.

“It used to be when you told a designer to design for recyclability it was like you spit in their spaghetti,” Shackelford said, reflecting on the now-dated view that recycled materials are inferior to raw materials and project a product as cheap or fragile. “But there’s now optimism swinging the other way.”

Elsewhere during the first day of the conference, stakeholders dove into the policy side of the industry, exploring the latest updates on e-scrap legislation in different states across the country.

Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling, presented data that showed the volume of covered material across 25 states falling in recent years. His group used reporting from states (and estimates when reporting was not complete yet) to determine that in 2022, those states collected between 450 million to 500 million pounds of covered material.

In past years, that number had been over 600 million pounds. Linnell noted the drop is due in large part to the continued growth of lighter devices, such as tablets, moving into the marketplace – and then the recycling stream.

“There’s still a lot being collected, but overall the trend is down compared with what we’ve seen in the past,” Linnell said. 

Other panels and workshops Monday covered updates from industry certifications, innovation around recovery of rare earth metals from electronics, a discussion of chip circularity, and the key regulations for lithium-ion battery transportation.

The discussions roll on today, starting with a comprehensive look at setting up a processing facility for safety, presented by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), and an exploration of the intersection of electronics recycling and reuse with corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

Other sessions today include a panel of data security in ITAD, steps to maximize the value of recovered precious metals, a look at the latest innovations being used across the sector and more.

The conference is taking place at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.

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