The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

A Multinational Perspective to Managing End-of-Life Electronics

Marianna Herold

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU2 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 19th of June, 2007, at 14 o'clock.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 978-951-22-8800-7)   [1455 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-951-22-8799-4)


This thesis focuses on how multinational electronics manufacturers manage used products in the EU, USA, Japan and China. Managing used or end-of-life products has interesting environmental and commercial implications. Recovering end-of-life products can reduce the environmental effects of disposal, raw material extraction, transport, and production. Whereas the commercial effects include image benefits and savings on raw material costs. Manufacturer involvement in end-of-life management is especially topical in the electronics industry, which is the focus of this thesis. Electronics products, such as TVs and computers, have been targeted with extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation in different countries across the world. EPR is an environmental policy approach that forces manufacturers to take physical and/or financial responsibility for end-of-life products.

The main objective of this dissertation was to increase understanding of how multinational manufacturers manage end-of-life products in the EU, in the USA, and in China and Japan, and the regional and company-specific factors explain their levels of involvement.

This study consisted of an inductive 16-case multiple case study. The products and companies included in the study were as follows:

A manufacturer's level of involvement in end-of-life management can be characterized in terms of the level of organizational capabilities. These capabilities range from none to running a treatment facility and recovering value from own branded products. Levels in between can be characterized by outsourcing end-of-life management to industry-wide schemes, managing contracts for treating mixed waste independently or through a more limited scheme and by having individual programs that recover value from own products.

Based on the study a company-specific prerequisite for the highest level of involvement, i.e. investments in tangible assets is the location of other functions, like R&D in the region. Whether manufacturers then actually invest in these assets depends on whether specific assets are needed to treat the companies' products and whether there is a regional recycling infrastructure. If no specific assets are needed and third party players offer the services, manufacturers are unlikely to invest in recovery facilities.

As for the second highest level of involvement, individual recovery, a prerequisite is that the company serves the B2B market. A proposition that needs further testing is whether this depends on the capabilities that the company has developed for B2B products and how it makes use of these for B2C products. A regional prerequisite is access to waste. The likelihood of being involved on this level is increased when the target market of the product in question is B2B customers and when the wear-out life of the products is short. Furthermore the possibility to benefit from these types of activities in complying with EPR legislation increases the probability of adopting them. As for the lower levels of involvement, if there is no legislation high consumer environmental awareness in the country of origin is a prerequisite.

Keywords: end-of-life management, product recovery, reverse logistics, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, electronics, extended producer responsibility (EPR), multinational

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© 2007 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26