HP talks up recyclables at first Sustainability Summit

PC and printer giant is working to cut waste and improve recycling

Green energy tech

At its first annual Sustainability Summit, hardware giant HP set several goals it hopes will see it use more recycled hardware in its supply chain.

Talking about the concept of a circular economy, in which new products use as few fresh raw materials as possible, Judy Glazer, global head of sustainability and product compliance, said: "While it's quite a familiar concept in some ways, with impressive potential returns for the global economy, it's not easy to do - if it were, we would already see it in action."

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"We really need to focus on practical ways to move from circular economy concepts to circular economy reality," Glazer continued, "because I believe we can do that and we are seeing success in finding practical and scalable, long-term ways to implement circular economy concepts in our business. I think there's a real benefit for our customers for our business and for society at large."

Circular economy refers to the concept of reusing what would once have been considered 'consumables' - toner cartridges, for example - to reduce waste. This is in contrast to the the 'linear' model of consumption, described by HP's UK & Ireland MD, George Brasher, as "take, make, consume and dispose". It also incorporates other elements of corporate social responsibility, such as using recycled materials in the initial production of plastic components.

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"The circular economy is regenerative by intention - you have to plan for it - and we're using this so that we can create operations that continually recover and reuse materials," said Brasher. "It allows you to decouple growth from the reliance on increasingly scarce raw materials, which benefits the environment. We can also help our customers reduce cost by gaining more value from each raw material."

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Asked by IT Pro if a fully closed-loop system will ever be possible, Glazer said the circular economy "is as an organising principle that can help us enhance our business and increase the sustainability performance of our business".

"It's a journey, more than an end point and one that can benefit society," she added.

Markus Laubscher, director of sustainability at Philips, one HP's partners, also told IT Pro: "So far, it's the only model that holds the potential. Will it be ever 100% circular? Well, history will show - I'm not sure.

"It depends a lot on the manufacturers, but also on the technologies and how far can you design them, ultimately, in such a way that everything can be reused. For now, there will be a lot of situations where there might remain some consumable elements that you have difficulty in bringing back, but it's a great area for innovation to get those elements also under control."

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