Assessing and managing the sustainability of global reverse supply chains: the case of personal computers

Project: Research project

Project Details


As part of our material flow analysis to understand the flow of computers inside and outside the United States (US) and their impacts to society, we will like to request supplement funding to hire an undergraduate student. The student will be working on two main tasks. The first will focus on characterizing the exportation of used computers. By organizing and disaggregating the categories found in an extensive Peruvian database that traces the importation of electronic goods, including used and new computers, the undergraduate student will help us build global perspective on the demand for IT (Information Technology) in developing countries. This government database includes information on the characteristics of equipment, port of entry, port of shipment, status of equipment (new or used), quantity, weight, price and other important information related to the trade of computers; desktops and laptops/notebooks. While the database contains disaggregated data regarding characteristics of the equipment such as type, speed and brand of processor, this data is not distinguished by separate fields. Hence, the role of the student will be to disaggregate the data based on the following specifications: brand, type and speed of processor, and to later perform a statistical analysis using the disaggregated data. The results will be used to quantify the number of used and new computers entering the country, understand the Peruvian dependency on the US used electronics trade, as well as the life span and the average price of imported used computers. Five years of data are available and will be analyzed: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. In addition, the student will have to perform a literature review of the computer market in Peru. Also, to incur in the student a sense of the system perspective of importation of computers to a developing country, the student will assist with the assessment of the countrys economic and social indicators for the studied years and correlating these with the importation of computers. In addition, similar to the Peruvian database, we will perform the same process with databases from one other Latin-American country such as Argentina, Colombia or Mexico. The selection of the country will depend on the trade between the country and the US and the database found in the country. Also, the student will perform a literature review in the selected countries and help us with the result interpretation and its relation with relevant social and economic indicators. Furthermore, as our NSF project evaluates computer flows in the US residential, business and academic sectors, the second main task for the undergraduate student will be related with the computer flow and end-of-life procedures that take place in academic institutions. We have selected Arizona State University (ASU) as a case study to understand and model this flow. ASU is one of the largest universities on the nation and we have open access to its property control database that includes an inventory of computers and laptops, as well as ASUs Surplus database and auctions, that will allow as quantify and understand ASUs computer end-of-life. The student will be in charge of extracting and processing data points, collecting, creating and processing a database from existing university e-waste flows, and preparing small reports based on literature review. The results of this work will give the student an understanding on the importance of computers in an academic sector, recognize the yearly changes on the life spans of computers, as well as the different existing computer end-of-life options. Finally, the accomplishment of this task will give the undergraduate student an important system perspective related to the electronics end-of-life, the one that is also applicable for other cases. In addition, the student will comprehend the computer flow in the US and its broader implications, inside and outside the country.


This project aims to evaluate the overall operations (e.g. logistics, recycling activities, socioeconomic and environmental impacts, and legal obstacles regarding exportation of electronic waste and related to the creation of the business) linked to the recycling activities done by Retroworks de Mexico facility located in Mexico, near the United States Mexico (Arizona Sonora) border. This recycling facility is supported by American Retroworks Inc., a Vermont based electronic recycling company, and is run by the a womens Cooperative called Las Chicas Bravas. Retroworks de Mexico recycles and refurbishes used electronics that come from the United States, mainly the southern area of Arizona; however, used electronics are also collected from Mexico. As opposed to the concerning cases of electronic waste trade between the United States and some developing countries (e.g. China), the case of Retroworks de Mexico appears to be an example of a recycling/refurbishing activity aligns with principles for sustainable management of e-waste: refurbishment of equipment for reuse, environmentally friendly dismantling/recycling processes, fair employment generation, economic positive impacts in low income communities, and others. Therefore a close assessment of these activities is important for the overall objective of this NSF funded project. This assessment should include understanding and measuring best dismantling/recycling practices, assessing regulatory obstacles to the international e-waste trade and creation of a recycling facilities, and understanding the perception of the employment needs in developing countries. The proposal consists in three phases that will be supervised by the principal investigator of this project, Dr. Williams and his research team. The first phase will take place in Arizona State University with the selected undergraduate student that will be in charge of preparing the field work. This work includes creation of interview questionnaires for workers, managers, authorities, U.S./Mexico Customs personnel, and other important persons related to the activity; data collection forms, planning, and others. The second phase will be carried out at the Retroworks de Mexico facility where the student will perform field work such as interviews to assess productivity of the recycling/refurbish activities. Finally, the third phase of the project will consist of organization of collected data, transcription of the interviews, and writing of the final report.
Effective start/end date9/1/078/31/11


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $363,930.00


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