Going Circular - Refresh, restart, reuse

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Refresh, restart, reuse


Gerrard Fisher: In the UK, businesses are buying around 75,000 tonnes of IT and communications equipment. They are buying that quantity every year and every year they are disposing a similar amount. 

Bridget Jackson: We generate about 27 tonnes of waste coming from laptops, mobile phones and data servers in any given year. 

Jeremy Willis: That equates to a lot of procurement activity and a lot of end of life waste to manage.

Bridget Jackson: Our preferred laptop has an impressive set of credentials, it is lightweight so it is using fewer materials, it has 85% recycled plastic in it so we are encouraging demand for secondary materials markets, it has a robust shell to the outside of it which means it is more durable and it has been designed so that the parts inside it can be easily disassembled, that means it is easier to repair and for us to keep in use for longer, or it also means it is easier to recoup all the materials that are inside it once it is no longer needed. There are also environmental issues associated with IT hardware. Some of it is about the minerals and the metals which are used to make them. The manufacturing of the materials that are used and the manufacturing of the laptops and the phones themselves are also quite intensive from an energy and a water point of view. If you can reuse and recycle them, it is better for sustainability.

Gerrard Fisher: There are also hazardous chemicals in the products that they are discarding and those can cause issues downstream in an environmental sense. If companies are not disposing of their assets in the right way, the main risk is that they have a data breach and they can be liable under law for the loss of that data. 

Partnering to maximise reuse

Bridget Jackson: We set up a programme with two different companies Tier 1 and S2S to recover the laptops and the phones once our people no longer use them and they are out of warranty.

Jonathan Rose: This is Tier 1’s operation facility. PwC’s old laptops come here and then we remove all of the data, we refurbish them, report on them, resell and generate revenue. It is far better to reuse than recycle. Recycle is good but it is expensive and it takes a lot of energy. We can remove data on 500 systems at a time. We use a piece of software called Blanco which is government approved. Once it has been erased we then send a report automatically onto these servers and all of that links in to our asset management database.

Gerrard Fisher: Because they track and trace each and every item they can make sure it gets reused responsibly or recycled properly if that is the best option.

Jonathan Rose: What we will then do is make the laptops ready for resale. We put them through high quality refurbishment process to give an out of box new experience even though they are a second hand product. We want them to open that box up and go “wow”.

Thomas Scott: This is the S2S facility in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, for all our corporate clients, which obviously includes the mobile phones that we collect and recycle for PwC. So first and foremost Aiden our head technician will take each device and test them to establish working from non-working.

Alan Dunkinfield: We either test and clean and return it to them or we can resell it for them and return the revenue back to PwC.

Thomas Scott: We can data wipe those devices and give PwC certificates stating that the process has been done. The most important thing is obviously looking to reuse as many devices as we possibly can. The reuse rate over the last 2 years of the mobile phones and tablets is at 93%.

Recycling as a last resort

Alan Dunkinfield: Any phone that cannot be reused is granulated to make sure that it is completely destroyed.

Thomas Scott: These are a mixture of mobile phones and hard drives. No data is ever going to be obtained from those particles.

Alan Dunkinfield: We can recover the aluminium, the plastic, the copper, the circuit boards in there, we can recover everything and recycle it. 

Bridget Jackson: 100% of our IT is either reused or recovered so nothing goes to landfill, nothing goes to incineration. 

Gerrard Fisher: The main environmental benefit of reusing these assets is that, obviously, someone can use the device again, it means you haven’t got to make another laptop, you haven’t got to extract the raw materials and you don’t need to incur the environmental impacts of making another one. 

Bridget Jackson: It also has social benefits alongside those which are more easily recognised.

Jonathan Rose: We have developed recycling workshops at a local Category B prison, we are providing an NVQ in recycling as we go through that programme, we are giving them meaningful work. When we actually then sell the components that come out of the computers, we are donating part of our profits to a charity, the charity that we use for long term unemployed recruitment in Tier 1 as well.

Bridget Jackson: The most compelling reason to do it is that it is revenue generating.

Jonathan Rose: The cost of the service is covered, and in many cases more than covered by the resale value of the product we are bringing in.

Bridget Jackson: We estimate that we make about £500,000 a year by refurbishing and reselling just our laptops.

Gerrard Fisher: I think the one take away from this example is the positive value that PwC is getting for the assets. It is meeting its compliance objectives but it is actually showing how much money that is worth. 

Aiden: The message is get involved in recycling, avoid sending things to landfill. Let’s create some revenue.

Jeremy Willis: I think the key thing is it is not too hard. You need to be innovative, you need to partner with the right organisations and to be open minded about it.

Contact us

Marissa Thomas

Marissa Thomas

Managing Partner & Chief Operating Officer, PwC United Kingdom