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Digital technology, digital participation and the circular economy


The research explored the areas of digital technology, digital participation and the circular economy, focusing on the computer re-manufacturing industry in Scotland. It aimed to establish the stakeholders and processes of the computer re-manufacturing industry in Scotland, explore the legislation and standards within which the industry operates, and the challenges and opportunities it faces. The report sets out some key definitions and explores the wider legislative and quality context, before setting out the working practices of the industry with examples of companies involved in re-manufacturing, the processes they undertake and the donors and recipients they work with.


The work involved consultations with a range of computer re-manufacturers of different scales and types, with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), and with Valpak regarding quality standards. Desk-based research of relevant strategies, policies and research was also completed. The work drew on the author’s experience in the industry in managing the charity Reusing IT.


The research has established that there are a relatively small number of players in the computer re-manufacturing industry in Scotland, covering a range of commercial and charitable enterprises, and with the involvement of computer manufacturers. Legislation has created a necessity for businesses to take safe and appropriate actions in relation to the disposal of electrical and electronic waste which in turn has led to the development of companies which offer a service to assist others in complying with the law. A key area for these businesses to develop is trust with their customers (the donors) to ensure that compliance will take place, as well as in guaranteeing safe data handling and destruction. The need for high standards in the industry has more recently led to related developments of good practice standards, and there are some limited signs of these influencing donor and re-manufacturer behaviour. The report suggests little link between Scotland’s re-manufactured computers and those in the country who are digitally excluded. As a lack of equipment is only one factor in people being digitally excluded and considering people may want tablets, this indicates that the industry does not hold the key to digital participation; although there are opportunities for it to support this area more than is currently happening. In terms of challenges, the industry faces ongoing challenges in market changes as technology developments lead to waves of obsolescence as new features emerge and are seen as a new preferred standard. The report concludes that the computer re-manufacturing industry is clearly an example of the circular economy in action; but that fundamental changes are needed in promoting and incentivising reuse rather than recycling for computer re-manufacturing to become a truly accepted and well-recognised industry.


No specific recommendations are made.

Author Reusing IT
Published Year 2016
Report Type Research
  • Sectors
    Digital markets and enabling technologies
  • Other