Fulbright Scholar presents research in Ireland on the circular economy in consumer electronics

Constanza Berron, Fulbright Scholar from Argentina, traveled to Ireland to present her research on the circular economy in e-waste management. Berron, a master’s student in sustainable systems, participated in research by RIT faculty members Nabil Nasr, vice-rector for academic affairs and director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, and Michael Thurston, research faculty member from the Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery, as well as Kyle Parnell, a Ph.D. student in sustainability.

Berron also received a 2022 Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps fellowship to work at Whirlpool Corp., as a sustainability intern focusing on emissions from end-of-life appliance management.

Explain your research on circular economies.

As part of a research assistantship, I work with renowned researchers and a Ph.D. student at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. The goal is to explore how the circular economy can make the consumer electronics supply chain more sustainable. In particular, the research focuses on the viability of value retention processes (VRPs) such as direct reuse, repair, refurbishment and end-of-life remanufacturing of electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) in countries. developed and developing. The research aims to provide support to policy makers.

What did you enjoy most about conducting your research?

What I love most about this research is how connected it is to the real world. I was able to learn about electronics from many different angles. For example, I learned about the technical characteristics of these types of products, such as the composition and characteristics of the materials, the social aspects related to consumer behavior and the way people interact with electronics, economics of how VRPs can be applied to retain product value. and materials in economics and advanced circularity, and legal aspects involving current policies in different countries and cross-border flows of used electronics. Additionally, doing research allowed me to interact with researchers and faculty members within GIS and outside the United States while studying at the E-Waste Academy for Scientists in Ireland.

What was your experience in Ireland?

The E-Waste Academy for Scientists in Ireland was amazing! It brought together scientists, researchers and professionals from around the world from more than 20 countries who work in the field of electronic waste. It was seven intensive days around a single topic: the challenge of electronic waste. Each participant presented a different perspective and experience related to e-waste. All these points of view created a rich, diverse and cross-cultural environment, generating constructive and engaging discussions.

We also visited a refurbishment plant of Wisetek Co., which gave us very hands-on experience of how companies apply the circular economy to the end-of-use of electronics products.

Finally, during the Academy, I was able to get in touch with people working in renowned organizations such as UNIDO and Unitar. At the same time, my home country (Argentina) is part of a regional collaborative project (PREAL project) of UNIDO and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to promote the sound management of electronic waste in Latin American countries. Thanks to the relationships I have established in Ireland, I will participate in the meetings that will take place within the framework of this project and, hopefully, I will provide support to my country on topics related to the management of electronic waste.

How does your research relate to your internship at Whirlpool Corp.? ?

In November 2021, I applied for the EDF Climate Corps scholarship. I could choose from different NGO, industry and government projects on topics around climate commitments, food and agriculture, zero-emission vehicles, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Finally, I was paired with Whirlpool to work on a 12 week project over the summer. The first objective was to understand the different ways of calculating the indirect emissions of a company, such as those of products sold at the end of their life. Next, I analyzed which of these calculation methods might work best for Whirlpool and gathered the data needed to model these emissions for future integration into Whirlpool’s GHG emissions management system. Whirlpool being one of the world leaders in major household appliances, this opportunity was closely related to my research.

What do you hope to do with your research and studies in the future?

In the future, I hope to translate the knowledge and experiences gained during my Masters program (including research experience and the Academy in Ireland) into technological innovations and activities of economic, social and environmental value. . My ultimate goal is to positively impact communities through a better understanding of how to work across research, policy and stakeholders to create solutions to implement more sustainable supply chains.

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