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How Smart Data Management Can Cut E-Waste Headaches

Whenever states or municipalities consider takeback laws on products and packaging, companies raise their fears of dealing with a patchwork of state laws on any one topic, each requiring companies to do slightly different things to comply.

But multinational companies are already dealing with this patchwork on a global scale for electronics and packaging, and key differences in countries' laws exist even in regions following the same legislative frameworks. With that perspective in mind, hosted a recent webcast to explore the experiences of global consultancy Perchards in helping companies tackle end-of-life issues and Panasonic, which operates in major areas with different e-waste approaches.

Members of Perchards gave an overview of the details, challenges and questions related to end of life laws around the world, and explained the need for companies to have better data management.

Laws on extended producer responsibility, said Perchards founder and CEO David Perchard, require companies to partially finance end of life management for products or packaging, and hold producers responsible for organizing that end of life management. Product takeback programs are usually handled by a separate collective.

"This is not as straightforward as it may look," Perchard said. "Firstly, who is responsible? Is it your company? Is it your immediate customer? Is it your customer's customer? Or is it your supplier?"

Raphael Veit, VP of research at Perchards, meanwhile gave an extensive look at the different laws in Europe, Asia and North America, pointing out that even in the European Union, which has framework legislation for the disposal of electronics and packaging, key details like financial obligations and reporting rules differ among countries.

What's happening in Europe shows some of the hurdles that the U.S. could face in creating nationwide laws; 25 U.S. states already have e-waste legislation covering various products.

"A challenge in North America is the sheer number and variety of state legislation, which creates an administrative burden," Veit said, "But also in the future the state programs could make it difficult to introduce a nationwide approach. We have seen in Europe quite a few examples of how the systems become institutionalized and resistant to change"

Add in the fact that companies like Walmart and Procter & Gamble are requiring suppliers to relay packaging or product data, and businesses have a number of parties to answer to.

"End of life reporting is getting more and more complex with more and more information demands from more and more jurisdictions," Veit said. "With further demands for environmental information already appearing, your data management systems must be future-proof."

Panasonic Corporation, which sells some 15,000 products around the world, handles its product end-of-life obligations and data tracking with the Recycling Administration software from SAP, which sponsored the webcast.

Thomas Knopp, project manager of environmental affairs for Panasonic Europe, said the software centralizes how recycling data is input and administrated, and has led to "significant" reductions in Panasonic's recycling fees and operation costs.

The webcast, "Practical Advice on How to Manage WEEE, Packaging and End of Life Electronics Regulations," can be viewed for free here.

E-waste - CC license by Samuel Manns/Flickr

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