Catherine Early reports on how the IT product giant's commitment to send zero waste to landfill led it to set up shop with Flex's recycling unit in São Paolo
Winner of the Circular Innovation Award at last year’s Responsible Business Awards, IT products giant HP and manufacturing firm Sinctronics have partnered on a circular economy model in Brazil since 2012. HP has significant manufacturing operations in the country, and has a target to send zero waste to landfill.
Sinctronics, a unit of global manufacturing company Flex dedicated to recycling IT equipment, built a recycling and innovation centre next to HP’s manufacturing site. This enabled the two firms to share practical insights on designing products to incorporate recovered materials, with the aim of creating a closed-loop process between manufacturing and recycling end-of-use products. Its main product to result from this is the HP Ink Tank printer.
So far, the closed-loop system only covers recycled plastics. There aren’t other manufacturers in Brazil that Sinctronics can work with to recycle other recovered components from e-waste, such as metals and circuit boards, but these are sent to Belgium to the refiner Umicore, which recovers precious metals from industrial waste for reuse.
We have potential for a much higher recycled content in the Brazil portfolio, but to do that we need feed-stream
“We are extending the project to other materials, but it’s still in research phase,” says Paloma Cavalcanti, HP Brazil and Argentina sustainability manager.
“We have potential for a much higher recycled content in the Brazil portfolio, but to do that we need feed-stream. That’s the main challenge we face today. We have all the technical solutions developed, but we need consumers to bring us back the equipment.”
In 2018, HP and Sinctronics devised a new strategy to involve waste cooperatives working in the informal sector. “The informal sector is responsible for collecting 90% of recyclables in Brazil, they have a fundamental role,” Cavalcanti says.
HP needed to create a way that it could have a long-term relationship with the workers, who tended to sell to different people daily. The firm guaranteed that it would buy all the waste electrical equipment they collected – whether HP-branded or not – at a premium price, and gave them training on safety and environmental standards. It worked with Social Accountability International, a charity that audited the cooperatives and ensured that they were not using child labour, or other practices that were unacceptable for HP.
HP has worked with around 310 workers through two cooperatives in São Paolo, and hopes to work with two further cooperatives by the end of the year. It has so far collected more than 170 tonnes of e-waste through the informal sector, and has increased the percentage of recycled plastic in the printer to 25%, with a goal to hit 32% by the end of 2020.
Cavalcanti hopes that HP can also work with individual waste collectors outside the cooperatives, but meeting HP’s supply chain standards could be more challenging, she explains.
“They have improved their conditions, management skills and revenue, and we have achieved huge savings in terms of logistics, which would be a significant cost if we collected from customers’ homes,” says Cavalcanti. Currently, the cooperatives are not working, as Covid-19 spreads throughout Brazil. HP has launched a campaign for consumers to return unwanted electronic waste directly, and in return for each kilogramme it receives, HP sends one kilogramme of food to the cooperatives.
This article is part of our in-depth Circular Economy briefing. See also:
Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Awards circular economy Flex HP Sinctronics e-waste