This is a blog on the work of the Value Recovery From Used Electronics Project, organized by iNEMI (the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative). The focus of this project is to move towards a more circular economy for hard disk drives (HDDs), with the ultimate goal of “making hard drives from hard drives”. This article is based upon materials from the iNEMI Value Recovery Committee.
There is increasing pressure worldwide for societal transformation from a linear economy – based on the traditional take-make-waste model – to a circular economy. The expanding worldwide demand for electronics – and specifically, for data storage – is increasing opportunity for the electronics industry, while also increasing resource consumption. The most successful companies will modify their business practices consistent with circular economy principals. To date, some individual companies in the electronics industry have taken this direction, but as a whole, the industry has not undertaken the business-model-level initiatives that are key for a serious transition to a circular economy.
There are three major reason why HDDs are a good candidate for a circular economy: (1) the demand for data storage is increasing rapidly; (2) data storage demand is increasing significantly faster than increases in HDD storage density, and (3) industry output of HDDs (manufacturing capacity) is not expected to increase significantly, according to industry projections. This leads to a potential gap between estimated data storage needs and the estimated ability of HDD and SSD manufacturers to keep up with demand. There are a number of ways to fill this gap: continued investment in fabs and technologies to increase HDD and SDD storage, increase HDD reliability, and increase the reuse of used HDDs so that they are available to meet some of our global data storage needs.
Phase 1 of this project identified stakeholder groups and new technologies necessary to circularize the HDD economy. Phase II of this project, currently underway, is working to demonstrate the feasibility of this goal by using system modeling, case studies, and pilot projects to measure economic and environmental impact of various reuse and recycling options. The team, consisting of industry leaders in the HDD economy, are committed to establishing a blueprint for HDD collection, processing, reuse, and recovery (with a special focus on rare earth magnets).