The Elements of Innovation Discovered

FedEx flips Tennessee e-waste for minerals

Metal Tech News - June 12, 2024

Partnership with Pyxera successfully tested a "circular logistics" model to upcycle critical minerals from electronic waste.

Following a successful pilot program at the end of last year in Tennessee, FedEx, Pyxera Global, and several other companies have launched the Circular Supply Chain Coalition (CSCC) to boost the domestic supply of critical minerals for new tech hardware in the United States by "mining" discarded consumer electronics.

CSCC's vision is to strengthen and expand networks of like-minded small businesses and nonprofits processing e-waste and close the gap between a product's manufacture, end-of-life and beyond.

Unlike electronics manufacturing and distribution, which are often multinational, downstream recycling happens locally, through municipal waste systems, donation sites and a smattering of businesses – usually small – according to Brandon Tidwell, FedEx principal of global citizenship and sustainability.


FedEx and other logistics and delivery companies are uniquely positioned to play a critical role in the circular economy by providing collection, sorting, and redistribution.

FedEx recently joined forces with Washington, DC-based nonprofit Pyxera and its data modeling and analytics partner, Metabolic, to run a pilot program demonstrating an e-waste circular value proposition for the logistics industry. The program ran successfully for five months, proving its merits as a template for what the CSCC hopes to grow across the U.S. and, eventually, the world.

Through the success of the pilot, the coalition has presented an implementable framework to facilitate the logistics industry's immediate contribution to a circular economy.

"It's really an opportunity for us to engage companies who may be dabbling at the edges of this, but don't really know where that space needs to be," said Tidwell.

No infrastructure required

The pilot program acted as a blueprint to inform how logistics companies might be uniquely positioned to use existing shipping structures and community relationships to move products and materials back into the supply chain for remanufacturing or recovery at scale. It emphasized bridging between communities and manufacturers without the need for constructing new infrastructure.

The pilot partnership selected TERRA's online Done With It mail-in recycling program to provide free e-waste collection services, with FedEx transporting donations to the company's supply chain facility in Lebanon, Tennessee.

"The logistics industry plays a crucial role in our economy," said Ben Fogg, global sustainability manager for FedEx Logistics. "The pilot with Pyxera Global explores the role logistics companies can play in the circular economy and close the loop on electronic materials normally destined for landfill. With our goal to achieve carbon neutral global operations by 2040, we know that a stronger supply chain for critical mineral recycling is vital to support the batteries for electric vehicles and other low-emissions technologies."

During the pilot, donations that arrived at the hub had their memories wiped to ensure data privacy and then FedEx Supply Chain employees performed diagnostics to assess whether they could be repaired.

Salvageable devices went to Electronics Recycling Solutions (ERS) in Nashville, which trains adults with developmental disabilities in high-demand repair skills.

Remaining devices were broken down into parts, with the lithium-ion batteries sold to American Battery Technology Company (ABTC), which supplies recycled battery materials to the U.S. market.

Circular logistics

A circular supply chain can't exist without reverse logistics, which, by definition, encompasses all operations related to the upstream movement of end-of-life products and recyclable materials for the purpose of capturing value before disposal.

Following the pilot program's success, CSCC was launched. Its goals have been to first identify and engage with community enterprises, tailoring strategies to meet the needs of the partnered offtake institution, which agrees to buy back the material sorted and processed at the community level. This includes creating agreements to purchase materials after collection and processing.

Pyxera's circularity blueprint for Fedex is outlined in the report Powering Sustainability through Circular Logistics, which expounded on the scope of reverse logistics as more than value recovery from product returns: in a circular logistics system, collected "first use" products are transported to a sorting location, designated for "next use" and distributed for refurbishment, repurposing, or recycling.

All aftermarket products and materials remain in the supply chain, closing the loop and removing waste from the equation.

The coalition aims to help coordinate collection, sorting, and offtake efforts, build networks to facilitate a collective capacity to sell processed material with more negotiating power and increase the efficiency of multi-step material processing across multiple community enterprises.

This also includes organizing accelerator programs and funding opportunities that fill vacancies in the value chain by jumpstarting new businesses, and development services to strengthen existing enterprises.

"Logistics and delivery companies are uniquely positioned to play a critical role in this transition through circular logistics, providing collection, sorting and redistribution," said John Holm, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Pyxera Global. "This report highlights how logistics companies can shape a sustainable re-use economy for consumer products and provide services for manufacturing and retail companies on their journey toward more circular practices."

Closing the loop

Kevin Jarrett, via Unsplash

The U.S. alone generates about 6.9 million tons of e-waste each year.

There is an absence of remanufacturing partnerships between local communities and multinational companies supplying the wares in use. Logistics companies like FedEx can bridge the gap between producers, consumers, recovery and refurbishment.

"We want to scale and transform and prioritize reuse, and remanufacturing, around critical mineral value chains, period, and develop a business case for that," said Holm, describing a fully implemented project model where "you would have small businesses in one city that process the e-waste, [that] will be networked together. They will sell the recovered materials to a large clean energy technology manufacturer through a forward procurement financial mechanism called the circular services agreement."

Aside from a greener economy supported by device and material recirculation, scaling the circular logistics plan supports education and workforce development for highly skilled repair jobs and creates opportunities for local entrepreneurship and community-owned businesses.

Other partners of the coalition are Circular Consulting, the Washington, D.C.-based Sustain Our Future Foundation, consultancy WSP, FirstMile, the Virginia Commonwealth University Supply Chain Lab and the WBCSD Circular Electronics Partnership.

"This is about leveraging your company's sustainability goals toward the goals community members have," said Yinka Bode-George, founder and CEO of the Sustain Our Future Foundation. "It is possible to leverage both of these things at the same time."

CSCC is always seeking partnerships to expand its efforts, with several more major tech companies expressing interest. As more participants join the coalition, it will enable the development of ESG digital tools, improved business strategies, and industry case studies to inform shared knowledge and collaboration across value chains necessary to meet the Paris Agreement and other climate commitments.


Reader Comments(0)