Earth Day 2022: Why re-manufacturing is the future
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Earth Day 2022: Why re-manufacturing is the future

Earth Day 2022: Why re-manufacturing is the future

Re-manufacturing could be the key to cutting emissions for the tech industry, says Canon EMEA’s sustainability engagement manager

Re-manufacturing canon Earth Day

As companies focus on ways to lower their carbon emissions in the quest of becoming a climate-neutral society, there is an approach, which includes re-manufacturing, which innovative manufacturers especially in the tech industry, are looking at closely. And if it’s scaled correctly, could go a considerable distance towards helping us make the changes we need to help the environment.

Starting with ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’

One of the simplest approaches has been defined by the phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. As a theoretical hierarchy, it’s easily applied to both consumer habits and business operations. Reduce actions that negatively impact the environment if you can. If you can’t, then look at how you could reuse products or materials. And failing that, recycle as much as you can to ensure nothing goes to waste.

Many businesses and individuals are making an active effort to reduce environmental impact, especially by aligning with the concept of the circular economy, which in some ways formalises the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ hierarchy. But while estimates claim that wide scale adoption of circular economy practices in Europe could halve carbon emissions by 2030, no matter how much we try to reduce our impact on the environment, or to reuse things, there will always be a demand from consumers for new, high-quality products.

The missing link is re-manufacturing, especially in the tech industry

And while recycling can help to ensure materials from old products are being reused where possible, there’s a lot of time, money and energy that goes into recovering those materials. This is a particular challenge in the tech industry, with figures from the European Environmental Agency showing that e-waste recycling is lagging notably behind packaging and home waste.

This missing link in the chain is re-manufacturing – a process that delivers better quality products than resale or simple refurbishment, while being more efficient and economically practical than recycling in many situations. It’s an approach that innovative manufacturers are looking at closely, and if it’s scaled, could go some way to helping us make the changes we need to help the environment.

Re-manufacturing offers a whole new product

Buying things second-hand can often be an environmentally responsible decision. It’s cheaper than buying a new product, is seen as good for the planet, and, in cases like vintage clothing, can be an important cultural choice too. But when quality is the priority in a purchasing decision, second-hand can often be seen as the “poorer” option.

This is most prevalent when it comes to tech, where performance is key. While second-hand buying is still somewhat common, and refurbished products (old devices that have been slightly fixed up) go some way towards addressing the quality issue, we are generally still concerned with having something new and shiny that we know will perform optimally.

This is where re-manufacturing comes in. Rather than simply taking back second-hand devices, giving them a fresh lick of paint so they live on a little bit longer, re-manufacturing takes second-hand devices and rebuilds them to perform like a new product.

Re-manufacturing improves upon refurbishment through its focus on performance and extensive testing which ensures that consumers are receiving what is essentially a new product, as opposed to simply extending the life of an existing one.

While the exact process differs depending on the device, the aim is to keep as much as the old device in possible while replacing key components to ensure high performance – it could involve keeping the body of an old product and replacing electrical components inside or taking out physical parts of the device that have worn down over time and need replacing.

By maintaining as much as the old device as possible, re-manufacturing offers a big benefit over recycling by reducing the amount of time and energy spent on recovering and processing materials for use in the creation of new products. Combined with the high performance on offer, it helps to satisfy consumers’ demand for new, quality technology, while limiting the impact on the environment.

Re-manufacturing is the future – But why isn’t it more common?

Beyond its environmental benefits, re-manufacturing also has great economic potential. It can unlock new revenue streams for businesses, reducing the costs associated with sourcing new raw materials or recycling old ones, while appealing to consumers willing to pay for products that are both environmentally friendly and high quality.

So, if this is the case, why isn’t re-manufacturing more common? The print industry is leading the way, with both ink cartridges and office printers often undergoing the process, but wide-scale re-manufacturing across the entire tech sector seems far off.

There are several reasons why, one of the main ones being our approach to product design. While many manufacturers have started thinking more about how they can make their products easier to recycle, most are still not considering re-manufacturing.

It’s something that requires considerable planning and innovation because it goes beyond just making products recyclable or repairable – careful thought needs to be given to what parts of the product have to be made to last and what will be replaced, whether assembly can be automated, and even how products can be returned for re-manufacturing. Business must be willing to invest and innovate in new manufacturing processes and operations that account for this if they are going reap the environmental and economic rewards of re-manufacturing.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is that it’s poorly understood, if at all. Educating consumers on the difference between a re-manufactured device and a refurbished one is key for overcoming hesitancy around purchasing ‘second-hand’. At the same time, there’s a clear need for more attention and encouragement from governments and regulators to help make re-manufacturing a standard industry practice.

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