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The Importance of Creating New Business Models Aligned with the Circular Economy

Brought to you by Maxime Furkel from Lexmark

The e-waste challenge is an ever-growing problem. In 2021 alone, according to the estimates of the United Nations, 57.4 million tonnes of e-waste were generated across the world and at current consumption rates, it is forecasted to increase to more than 74 million tonnes by 2030 . There is an urgent need to not only create an alternative circular business model, but also to find solutions that actively reduce the volume of waste produced in the first place – and the printing industry has a crucial role to play.

New circular economy business models enable the switch to low carbon energy sources in all major emitting industrial sectors, including green digital technologies. Creating a circular model, that values quality products and maximises the lifecycle of materials by remanufacturing and recycling, can significantly reduce waste volumes.

However, the principles can often be difficult to implement. Challenges around European and national legislation, the availability of technology and infrastructure have been a barrier to many circular business models and the lack of an integrated sector-wide approach or a standardised framework, meant that the industry had not been able to progress as quickly as it could have.

  • Creating a product service system. Product ownership should ultimately move from customers to producers, meaning the product should always be returned to the producer at the end of use. To achieve this, alternative profit models, such as subscription, PaaS (platform as a service), or pay-per-use services should be considered.
  • Optimising reverse logistics. Consolidating the shipment of end-of-use devices and components and optimising the logistics network would enable resources to be shared with other organisations. This would create better collaboration with partners who are specialised in the collection and sorting of all types of electrical and electronic equipment.
  • Ensuring easy and digitalised product returns. Easy returns will not only benefit the customer but offer information on reverse logistics and remanufacturing that can be used for improving future product design and recycling processes.
  • Enabling analytics to extend product lifetime. Better analytics means both producers and customers can analyse product usage and performance and can also identify other carbon emissions (CE) indicators, such as energy consumption and carbon footprint, helping to make better informed decisions about how to better design, manufacture, use and purchase a product.

Remanufacturing plays an important role for circular economy business models, considering saving raw materials and energy. Remanufacturing is an industrial process that rebuilds products from individual components – a mix of reused or repaired elements and new parts. Through disassembly, cleaning, repair and replacement of worn-out and disused components, a remanufactured product can be put on the market in an ‘as-good-as-new’ condition, being as reliable as the original, containing the latest soft- and firmware upgrades. Remanufacturing opens a new lifecycle especially when products are intentionally designed to be remanufactured, the circle can be repeated several times.

Imaging equipment such as printers and multifunctional peripherals (MFPs) are particularly suitable for remanufacturing due to the high value and complexity of components at the end of their first life.

The remanufacturing ecosystem typically comprises three main categories: original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), contracted remanufacturers that perform remanufacturing on behalf of OEMs, and independent 3rd-party remanufacturers that compete with OEMs.

When empty printer supplies are returned through cartridge collection programs (CCP), users help to reduce the impact on the environment and to promote sustainability. Each year, millions of kilograms of materials are responsibly reused and recycled. CCPs combine high-performance logistics and service with innovative tools to offer a collection, reuse, remanufacturing and ultimately recycling process that is modern, efficient, and ideally adapted to the user’s consumption volumes. In addition to paying the transportation costs of used cartridges, the solution provides convenient online access and interactive tools to schedule pick-ups, track returns, order remanufacturing containers and more.

Future establishment of new circular economy-friendly business models could be key factors in developing more effective lifecycle assessments and a more sustainable consumption within the printing industry. Implementing diverse ways of digital smart solutions, such as Internet of Things (IoT) or Blockchain technology through the entire value chain could provide more transparent and valid product information.

In a long-term perspective, the usage of Digital Product Passport (DPP) focused concepts is essential to create integrated frameworks and resource information systems to identify optimal solutions for the most effective way of reusing, recovering, remanufacturing, and recycling materials. From a business perspective, by adopting these innovative solutions, customers and consumers will have all the essential information regarding printers and its components’ current lifecycle leading to a more sustainable and thought-through decision-making process.

As a result, businesses could considerably benefit from the implementation of smart technologies, such as Digital Product Passport (DPP), aiming to bring about a massive change in consumer behaviour within the printing industry. Several DPP concepts are available in the market today, but these solutions are facing numerous challenges, such as providing a systematic and harmonised framework, accessibility to reliable data or transparency along the supply chain.

One of CE-RISE’s ambitious goals is to create an integrated information system that addresses the above-mentioned issues.