How E-Waste Encourages Competitors to Collaborate

News subtitle

In a new study, Tuck professor Laurens Debo searches for optimal e-recycling scenarios.

(Image courtesy of the Tuck School of Business)

Read the full story by Kirk Kardashian, published by the Tuck School of Business.

Most of the time, when we’re done using the things we buy, it’s our responsibility to dispose of them properly.

But for consumers in the European Union and 25 states in the U.S., there’s one notable exception: electronic waste. In those areas, the manufacturers of electronic products—such as computers, mobile phones, and televisions—are required by law to arrange for the end of the items’ lifecycle. The general name for this kind of regulation is “extended producer responsibility,” or EPR. The EU was the first governmental organization to implement EPR, with its 2002 Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. The following year, states in the U.S. began enacting their own forms of product stewardship legislation.

As one might guess, recycling complex electronics is not easy or cheap. The process benefits from economies of scale, and that has led to some unlikely partnerships. In order to recycle or otherwise dispose of electronics most efficiently, competing manufacturers have formed coalitions. For example, Gillette, Braun, Electrolux, and Sony teamed up to create the European Recycling Platform.

Laurens Debo, an associate professor and Bundy Faculty Fellow at Tuck, is an expert in supply chain management and has been intrigued by these uncommon coalitions. “They’re competitors in the primary market and collaborators in the recycling market,” he says. “They kill each other on one side and work together on the other side.”

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