Edition 126, August 2023

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By Dr. Oliver Hedgepath, American Public University

What is Common and Uncommon with Circular Economy, Sustainability, Recycling, and E-Waste.

What are the common factors binding circular economy, sustainability, recycling, and e-waste? One overall key factor is that each concept or product or process is focused on reducing some kind of waste but with a focus on developing and implementing sustainment practices, policies, and activities.

Each of these four items is different. When we talk about the circular economy, we focus on the economics or cost of how to recycle materials, trying to recycle as much as 100% of the material as possible. The goal of a circular economy is to have zero waste.

Sustainability is wrapped in government and business policies and procedures and actions to protect the environment. A lot of this protection can be accomplished by various means of conservation of raw materials or recycled materials.

Of course, everyone reading this should know a lot about recycling, which is simply processing all kinds of waste materials into another useful product. Beside recycling food scraps into compost for gardeners, recycling e-waste is not just dumping data into some other kind of data. E-waste has a long history of recovering metals and plastics from all kinds of electronic devices. There are rare metals in electronic devices such as aluminum or silver and gold. Plus, plastic is recycled. And as in the recent news, a plastics recycling plant can catch on fire and cause a hazard to humans.

There are a few uncommon factors of these four concepts. And you need to consider every time you focus on the positive business side of these concepts. The e-waste does not fit well in with the circular economy. In fact, a lot of that metal and plastics still end up in landfills. There are complex challenges. But, if you think about the circular economy and what it stands for, it could create a very effective way to helping produce e-waste into a profitable new end product, such as a new batch of raw materials as part of a supply chain toward a new manufacturing product.

So, how can we measure the value of these four concepts circular economy, sustainability, recycling, and e-waste? What metrics should we use? The metric to focus on is from that landfill. Measuring the amount and type of metals and plastics that are dumped into a landfill is needed. A related metric is the hazardous impact the e-waste products have on the atmosphere and human health problems.

The bottom line of paying attention to these four items is the profit margin of any business. Keep an eye on what to measure of these four items. They are part of a network of discussions and business decisions for returns and recycling.

Dr. Oliver Hedgepath

I am the Program Director for the Reverse Logistics Department for the American Public University System. Prior to joining APUS I was a tenured Associate Professor of Logistics at the University of Alaska Anchorage for nine years. My research and teaching interests are in military logistics, global logistics, reverse logistics, hybrid aircraft, transportation, supply chain management, lean operations, RFID technology, disaster logistics, knowledge management, business logistics, and project management. I earned my Ph.D. and masters degree in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University while also working for TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) at Fort Monroe. My work experience includes 28 years as a civilian operations research analyst on transportation and logistics systems with the Department of Defense. I shuttled from the Pentagon, Crystal City, Fort Monroe, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Lee and Fort Belvoir while conducting cost and operational effectiveness analyses, developing computer models, and artificial intelligence applications for logistics and combat systems. I eventually rose to the rank of GS-15. One of my really cool assignments was as the initial Director of the Artificial Intelligence Center for Army Logistics, Fort Lee, 1985-1990. I am also the former Director of Data Management for the Army Model Improvement Management Office, 1981-1984, Fort Leavenworth. After my life in DOD, I worked for GRCI, which eventually merged with AT&T, as a senior scientist on Army logistics program developments. I did write a real book, RFID Metrics, examining how we define problems such as reverse logistics to track and trace produce along their life cycles. It was published in 2007 by CRC Press.