Re-Tek

Background

Re-Tek, who provide refurbishment and resale of used IT equipment, was established in 1996 and is based in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire. The business has 45 employees in Scotland as well as partners in Europe, America and Asia.  Operating on an ‘incentivised return’ business model, they are leaders in the IT disposal industry offering re-use as a secure, environmentally sustainable method of asset retirement.  In 2018, Re-Tek extended the life of 200,000 used technology items for business and the consumer, therefore preventing the need for these items to be inefficiently or needlessly recycled or landfilled.

The company sources most of its equipment from medium to large-sized businesses and public sector organisations, and they aim to re-market as much of the material received as possible. Approximately 80% of all equipment received is refurbished and re-marketed.  Only equipment which is non-functional or has no market value goes to conventional IT recycling partners. Re-Tek’s facility has LED lighting throughout, a Biomass Boiler and a 62 Solar Panel Array, providing approximately 80% of their energy needs from renewable sources. They take sustainability and corporate responsibility seriously and work closely with WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and Zero Waste Scotland.

 

Challenge

The project partners, Re-Tek and Enscape, were keen to find a partner in academia, specifically individuals or teams with expertise in recycling/reclamation of rare earth minerals and in precious metals recovery from electronic waste. This was to partner in a bid for a €166k tender across four countries in the EU, released by EU Life/WRAP UK, which was designed to identify collection models in phase one, and recovery processes in phase two for Critical Raw Materials (CRMs).

Whilst Re-Tek were confident they could deliver Phase 1 (identifying collection models), they needed to identify a project partner to help them deliver Phase 2 (Recovery Phase), as the extraction process would be quite specialised given the recovery materials. 

 

Solution

The Scottish Institute for Remanufacture referred Re-Tek on to Interface who, after putting out an expertise search to various universities within Scotland, was able to connect them with Professor Andrew S Hursthouse from the School of Computing, Engineering & Physical Sciences at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS).

Re-Tek and UWS were successful in their tender for WRAP and three years on presented the results of their collaboration at The Royal Society in London. The partners are still working together to develop their ideas and are currently involved in a Horizon 2020 two-stage bid. This has also involved Re-Tek and partners networking across the EU through a recent COST Action project co-chaired by Prof Hursthouse.

 

Benefits

The company received grant funding for approximately two years to support collection models underpinned by Circular Economy initiatives. This will increase the diversion of redundant IT products from traditional recycling and landfill and enhance opportunities for further employment and profitability, whilst income sharing with Social Enterprise partners.

Re-Tek recently won the Sustainability award, sponsored by The Scottish Institute for Remanufacture, at the CeeD Awards 2019.

 

Follow-on Activity

Whilst Re-Tek reuses approximately 80% of ICT equipment received, the remaining goods are sent to their Recycling Department for preparation before being sent to a downstream recycling partner for further treatment.

Currently, they only remove certain commodities from ICT equipment, e.g. memory, PCBs, hard drives, however they believed that there was a great opportunity to increase their revenues by fully disassembling equipment and segregating by commodity, e.g., aluminum, cables, plastics, etc., which would be advantageous to the recycling partner and should increase the rebate received.

A cost-benefit analysis was required, calculating the cost of disassembling various products and the calculation of the funds received from the recycling partner as a result of the separation. The company was also looking for suggestions for a re-design of the production space to ensure sufficient space was allocated to the disassembly functions.

Interface put out another expertise search to the universities looking for a collaborative partner for this project with the result that the company was allocated a student from the University of Strathclyde’s MSc Business Analysis and Consulting programme. The student provided business insights about the project.

Andrew Hursthouse

"The project was incredibly challenging and very timely given worldwide interest in critical raw materials and continued demand to deliver effective waste management processes needed by global society. The opportunity to work at the cutting edge of both business and research innovation was fantastic and a real team grew from our joint work with Re-Tek and partners. The work has stimulated international partnerships, produced research publications and provided real contributions to the international policy arena. A superb opportunity for our staff and students to grapple with live industrial issues and deliver research with real impact."

Andrew Hursthouse, Professor of Environmental Geochemistry, University of the West of Scotland
William McPherson

“Re-Tek faced an enormous challenge to try and identify an academic partner to support the recovery of gold, silver and cobalt from printed circuit boards which were removed from recycled electronics. Without the support of Interface, it’s unlikely that we would have found our outstanding partner, University of the West of Scotland, to support Phase 2 of the project. Interface has been an outstanding partner to Re-Tek, coordinating support for several ventures, including a project with University of Strathclyde to support improvements in our Recycling Centre, and I would highly recommend their services.”  

William McPherson, Projects Director, Re-Tek