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Taiwanese businesses flourish from demand for laptops from recycled materials

Suppliers of ‘Big Six’ computer manufacturers strive to advance metal, plastic renewal technology

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(Pexels, Valentine Tanasovich photo)

(Pexels, Valentine Tanasovich photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As major personal computer (PC) brands recycle their products and work with exclusive renewed material suppliers in what is becoming the new norm, Taiwan businesses must seize the opportunity by quickly adapting new business models, Business Today wrote on Oct. 13.

Taiwan-based performance materials company Chi Mei Corporation had to give up its panel manufacturing business to Foxconn nine years ago, and yet today it has become a first-level supplier for the six largest PC brands. Chi Mei told Business Today that so far, the cases and parts used on over 10 million laptops worldwide have been manufactured with renewed materials the company supplied.

Another performance materials company called Covestro has seen demand for its product, post-consumer recycled resin (PCR), quadruple in the past five years. PCR is renewed plastic made from old desktop computers, laptops, television, or even marine debris, and is now widely used to manufacture new computers and monitors.Taiwanese businesses flourish from demand for laptops from recycled materials
Covestro's polycarbonate resin. (Covestro photo)

According to Business Today, the “Big Six” PC brands, which make up nearly 85% of the global PC market, are all dedicated to “manufacturing laptops using trash,” and have set various timelines for themselves.

Hewlett-Packard and Acer plan for all their products to be made with 20-30% renewed plastic by 2025. Meanwhile, Dell plans for all its products to contain at least 50% renewed materials, including plastic and metal, by 2030.

While Apple has not announced a schedule, Business Today cited its Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook saying the company’s goal is to no longer use the Earth’s resources to manufacture new products. Cook was also cited as saying that its new Mac products are made with 40% renewed aluminum.

Chang Wen-hsien (張文賢), Deputy General Manager of Lealea Enterprise, told Business Today, “Apple told us two things from the get-go: First, it wants us to use renewable energy, and second, it said its future products must all use renewed material.”

Lealea is the first textile business in Taiwan to join Apple’s supply chain, per Business Today. It supplies tech giants such as Apple and Google with renewed fibers made from disposable plastic bottles.

The company became Apple’s only designated renewed fiber supplier. It provides textiles and fabrics used on Apple’s woven iMac power cords, HomePods mini, and Apple Watch straps.

Taiwanese businesses flourish from demand for laptops from recycled materials
Lealea Enterprise is Apple’s only designated renewed fiber supplier. (Business Today photo)

Lianyou Metals, a company established in 2018, targeted the tungsten market, and built Taiwan’s first tungsten recycling factory, wrote Business Today. Armed with its unique smelting techniques, the company joined Apple’s smelting and refining supply chain in 2019 and earned more than it did in the previous year, in under eight months.

Business Today quoted a Taiwan cellphone supplier as saying, “There is a team of material scientists working in Apple, studying metal and plastic renewal techniques.”

The supplier added, “This is because it has predicted that electronic products in the future will all be manufactured with renewed materials, so it jumped on the chance to strategize.”

A Taiwan Intellectual Capital Corporation research shows that Apple has submitted seven patent applications for aluminum renewal, per Business Today. Chinese businesses that joined the Apple supply chain over the past three years have had to pass the company’s certification in renewed aluminum processing, and the phenomenon has provoked a response from an old Taiwan Apple supplier.

Taiwan Hodaka Technology, an Apple aluminum supplier of over 10 years, stated in 2021 that it is now capable of producing aluminum alloy using 100% renewed aluminum. According to Business Today, the announcement was meant to show the competition that it has not fallen behind.

Taiwanese businesses flourish from demand for laptops from recycled materials
Taiwan Hodaka Technology specializes in aluminum products. (Taiwan Hodaka Technology screenshot)

In 2012, Dell approached Wistron, which was eagerly seeking to transition from manufacturing and had just established a green resource business. Dell’s goal was to build a closed-loop supply chain spanning China and the U.S., wrote Business Today.

The aim of a closed-loop supply chain is for brands to recycle products they sold to consumers, and take them apart to produce renewed plastic and metal, which are then used to manufacture new products.

Per Business Today, to do this, Dell also approached Goodwill, an American nonprofit, and set up over 1,000 recycling stations. It also sent old computers they received to Wistron’s subsidiary Wistron InfoComm Technology, where the company separates parts into scrap plastic, scrap metal, and scrap motherboard.

Taiwanese businesses flourish from demand for laptops from recycled materials
(Wistron screenshot)

However, Wistron had to overcome issues such as the impurity of renewed plastic causing computer parts to “shrink,” according to Business Today. This meant that not only Wistron had to improve on the material, computer part suppliers also had to recalibrate their processing machines’ settings to adapt to renewed plastics’ features, and computer manufacturers had to communicate with brands about potentially redesigning how products are built.

The seemingly small changes kept Dell and Wistron busy for two years before they presented their first product. However, the hard work also enabled Dell to become the recognized renewed materials pioneer in the PC industry, said Business Today.

By now, the entire industry consensus is that to resolve the issue of impurity in recycled materials, at the very beginning, products must be designed to be easily taken apart, Business Today added. This is because the easier it is to take apart a product, the more precisely recycled materials can be sorted, resulting in fewer impurities.

Taiwanese businesses flourish from demand for laptops from recycled materials
(Pexels, Cottonbro photo)

“The green supply chain is undoubtedly a major event in the next decade, and one must work to problem-solve, or one wouldn’t even be able to survive, let alone do business,” Lite-On President Anson Chiu (邱森彬) told Business Today.

Meanwhile, Business Today cites REnato Lab CEO Wang Chia-Hsiang’s (王家祥) observation that manufacturers have begun to realize whoever takes control of material development and develops their own unique material, gets first dibs on purchase orders from brands.

However, not all PC suppliers are so eager to change. “Many parts suppliers and manufacturers remain passive, thinking that they’ll just come up with whatever clients request,” Business Today quoted an electronic supply chain observer as saying.

Taiwanese businesses must be wary, as China is on the move. The country is making dedicated efforts to build a national recycling system, integrating waste recycling and renewed material industries, which, combined with the electronics supply chain already established there “will only make China stronger in this area,” Liu Chih-chong (劉致中), Industrial Technology Research Institute ​​Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center team leader, told Business Today.