End-to-end accountability for circularity
- Formalized the circularity strategy to cover the whole product life cycle.
- Extending product lifetime via repair and refurbishment centers.
- Piloting subscription business models.
- Enhancing product end-of-life management.
At Whirlpool Corp., we aim for end-to-end accountability for circularity, from the way our products are designed and produced, to the way they are used by our consumers, then collected and treated at the end of their useful life. Being fact-based and science-driven is at the core of our circularity strategy.
Natural resources are not unlimited, and the global population is expected to increase in the next 30 years, from 8 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050.1 The circular economy represents a pathway to decouple the increasing demand of goods and services from its resource consumption by reducing and reusing resources and by extending the lifetime of products to reduce environmental impacts.
We approach circularity from a full life cycle perspective, and our definition of circularity includes (in alignment with ISO 14009):
- Circular design to minimize the use of virgin and/or fossil-based materials
- Circular use to extend and optimize the useful lifetime of products
- End-of-life product recovery to minimize e-waste pollution and allow material recycling
Our Circular Economy Goals
- Use 30% recycled plastics1 by 2025 in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
- Design for repair and recyclability.
- Prioritize repairability—ensure spare parts availability for at least seven years in the North America region (NAR) and 10 years in EMEA and the Latin America (LAR) region.
- Evaluate business models that promote product reuse (via refurbishment centers and service models).
End-of-Life Product Recovery
- For countries with an EPR policy in place, we work through Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) to comply with the regional targets.
- For countries without an EPR policy in place, we aim to ensure a responsible collection and treatment of disposed appliances either directly (for products we collect when delivering direct to consumers) or indirectly (via retailers).
1 Revised the formula by considering only thermoplastic: mass of recycled plastics/total buy of thermoplastic X100
Designing for circularity
In order to enable a product for reuse, it has to be designed to be both reliable and repairable from the beginning. To ensure performance over the life span of the product, we have developed accelerated lifespan and forced failure simulations which allow us to anticipate issues and design solutions. We also design products to be repairable by ensuring the accessibility and easy replacement of parts, the availability of spare parts and service documentation.
Over 25M spare parts available per year 223,000 units refurbished in 2022
In the U.S. we operate multiple return centers where we manage faulty or damaged appliances by refurbishing and reselling them. In 2022, we managed approximately 286,000 returned units and regraded approximately 173,000 units, contributing to a 60% diversion of waste from landfills of the returned products. In the last 12 months we have provided approximately 13 million spare parts for the American marketplace to support repair versus replacement where possible.
In the EMEA region, we ensure spare parts for at least 10 years, and we provide approximately 15 million spare parts every year.
In Brazil we launched “SEMINOVOS,” a project with the purpose of enabling the product to be circular throughout its useful lifetime, giving it a second chance to fulfill its role, once again, in a new household. A significant quantity of products were reoperated, cleaned and sold as second-hand products, generating trust through Whirlpool Corp.´s endorsement and warranty. This initiative has shown to be very appealing to consumers, as reflected by double-digit growth rate.
For water purifiers in Brazil, we perform maintenance during the use phase and, if a product is returned to us at the end of its useful life, we remanufacture the unit for potential sale to another customer. In some cases we reuse parts, or, if not possible to reuse, we properly dispose of the unit. These water purifiers improve water safety for our consumers, and the rental model includes service and filter replacement, which simplifies the process. All of these programs aim to lengthen the usable life of our products and keep them out of waste streams. In 2022, Brazil remanufactured 14,000 water purifiers. The subscription business model represents 13% (average from the last three years) of the total water purifier sales.
In addition to designing and producing products that are reliable, repairable and that can be reused to avoid an excessive generation of waste, it is fundamental to collect and properly treat the products that have reached their end of life.
In the countries where we are under EPR [Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union (EU), India], we operate through collective schemes with PROs; both major and small domestic appliances are covered by the EPR rules.
In the EU, our PROs are part of the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, the world’s largest multinational center of competence concerning the management of WEEE. The WEEE forum has developed high-quality Pan-European standards for the collection, handling, storage, transport, preparation for reuse, processing and disposal of WEEE and harmonized conformity verification guidelines through the LABoratory of EXcellence. This private standard has been turned into the EN 50625 standard, hosted at the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization. The EU regulatory objective for WEEE is a 65% collection rate and 85% recovery and recycling rate. According to the reporting of our PROs, their recovery and recycling rate is above 90% on average.
In the U.S., where there is no EPR, nor legislation covering the management of end-of-life appliances, we offer a free-of-charge take-back service for appliances (all types) when delivering directly to consumers. The take-back includes all brands. Returned products are managed depending on their status: refurbished in a Whirlpool Corp. specialized return center, or disposed using contracted recycling vendors. We have a Recycling Service Agreement that requires vendors to operate according to federal and local laws and regulations for the proper management of waste, to implement procedures so that every appliance is checked for hazardous components (as defined by laws and regulations), and to safely and compliantly remove and recycle or dispose of all hazardous elements. Moreover, we also include in the agreement that our suppliers and their subcontractors act according to the Basel Convention with regard to the ban of exportation of e-waste from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries to non-OECD countries. In 2022 we launched a survey to 100% of our recycling vendors to gather additional information about their management systems and compliance with local and federal regulations. Additional recycling programs are offered by U.S. retailers.
Based on the latest available reporting,1 our PRO partners have collected on our behalf 250,0002 tons of appliances no longer in use.
1 Reporting period might differ depending on each individual PRO organization. For EU organizations, the most recent data refers to 2021; for India organizations, the reporting period is the financial year of April 2021-March 2022.
2 Quantity collected in the EU on Whirlpool Corp.’s behalf is calculated based on Whirlpool Corp.’s put on the market (POM) quantity divided by the sum of the POM quantities of all manufacturers in the same PRO. 10 PROs have provided their data. For EU organizations, the most recent data refers to 2021; for India organizations, the reporting period is the financial year of April 2021-March 2022.
250,000 tons of appliances no
longer in use collected through EU PROs
90% of electrical and
electronic waste is recovered and recycled
Consumer education and supporting the circular infrastructure
Our products enable our customers to live more sustainably, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. We also recognize that the overall system, including the infrastructure and people's habits, have an important role to play as well.
Whirlpool Corp. has launched a YouTrend consumer research project with the aim to gather more insights on consumer habits and opinions regarding refurbished appliances in Italy. Of Italian consumers who purchased refurbished goods, 82% would recommend those products as a sustainable choice. Consumers who buy refurbished goods contribute to the improvement of the environment in terms of the reduction of GHG emissions as well as the reduction of waste. Additionally, 15% of the interviewees connect themes such as repair and reuse to environmental sustainability.
As a follow-up activity and in an effort to provide end-to-end accountability for circularity, in 2022 we launched a campaign to better involve and educate consumers around what makes a product circular and how they can make a sustainable use of that product, and we created an infrastructure to refurbish products that cannot be repaired.
The 2022 Circular Economy Campaign website developed for Italy, which can be reached through a QR code on a product sticker, provides basic information on company practices to approach a circular economy, as well as simple tips on how consumers can use our appliances in a more sustainable way. Support information is also included on how to properly dispose of the products at the end of their life.