When you’re visiting a city like Barcelona for the first time and you don’t have much time, you have a great alternative: you can hop on one of the city’s tourist buses for a fleeting visit to the most emblematic sights. All this in a comfortable vehicle and with an indispensable tool: the headphones that the company gives you free of charge when you get on the bus so you can listen to a voice in the language of your choice, which will be your guide for the two hours of the tour. But… what do you do with them after this endearing activity?

 

The tragedy of single-use headsets in tourist activities

It is estimated that 95% of people who board a tourist bus discard used headphones after the journey is over, as the quality of these devices is often inferior to that of most passengers. How many headphones are we talking about?

500 tonnes of discarded earphones in one year in only 10 European cities. Two and a half million tonnes in 5 years. Are we losing our way?

There are not many figures available, but we can draw some conclusions if we connect the dots. According to TMB data only in the city of Barcelona, 2,800,000 people used the tourist bus guide service in 2015. If each of them used an earphone on the trip, and only 5% of them kept it, 2,660,000 single-use earphones were discarded, which is equivalent to more than 53 tonnes of electronic waste. Taking into account that this action is repeated in every city, we can be talking about almost half a thousand tonnes of e-waste in a single year in just the10 most visited European cities. If we start multiplying by years and by cities or tourist activities, the numbers are staggering. Are we losing our way?

Discarded earphones thrown away on a bus stop

Discarded earphones thrown away on a bus stop

Tour companies do not find alternatives to the use of this type of headphones, because having them gives the visitor freedom, comfort, independence and sound quality. If their use cannot be avoided, what can be done to reduce the waste generated by single-use headphones?

 

Is it possible to recover the headphones? You have to start with the will to do it.

The above data, and the growing tendency to understand that the accumulation of waste is a global problem, is fortunately making an impact on more and more companies, which are embarking on finding solutions that promote the circular economy. And Actia Sourcing has pioneered an action that aims to curb the problem of e-waste accumulation in bus shelters.

Actia is a company that manages the manufacture of sustainable products from China for sale throughout Europe. One of its flagship products is the tourist earphone, whose design and production is closely monitored at the factory by them.

Their sensitivity to the impact generated by these products, and bearing in mind that they are anticipating a future law reflected in the European Directive on Extended Producer Responsibility, has led them to study ways of recovery that can be:

  • Reuse the headsets: this is the most logical strategy, as they are fully functional units that can be reused. It is clear, however, that for hygienic reasons the devices must be treated before they can be used again. There are organisations that treat these items, but the work involved in cleaning and untangling the accumulated wires is far greater than the work involved in manufacturing them, so it is not feasible.
  • Recycling headphones: If they cannot be reused, the only way is to separate components to recover the valuable raw material, which is entirely feasible today.

Actia has also opted for the recovery of tourist headsets, launching a pilot test in September 2023 to create the first 3TR Recovery Chain in Catalonia

 

The first step: collect the used item at the bus stop to create a tidy waste.

In order to recover any assembled object, it is necessary to separate its parts in order to avoid mixing the materials. And for that to be possible, the best way is to collect such objects individually in order to create an orderly waste and proceed to an efficient recovery.

In the case of headphones on a tourist bus, it may be easy to ask people to deposit their used headphones before getting off the bus, which can be communicated either in the audio guide voice-over or on signs inside the bus.

Indications inside the earphones bag for tourists

Indications inside the earphones bag for tourists

In the case of City Tours, it has been shown that people appreciate the fact that there is an alternative way to the bin after discarding this product, especially if they also receive reliable information about the truthful and transparent path they will follow in the following processes. However, more emphasis should be placed on the fact that they should deposit ONLY earphones (not bags, tissues or chewing gum), otherwise the bin becomes contaminated and recovery may be less efficient.

 

The second step: finding the best partners for recovery

What do I do with this now? This is the question asked by responsible manufacturing companies that decide to prevent their products from becoming waste at the end of their life. This is logical because these companies are experts in manufacturing, but not in dismantling or recycling products.

That is why on this occasion Actia has had the support and specialised advice necessary to find the most suitable companies to design the most appropriate steps to create your headset recovery chain. Who are they?

  • Logistics and treatment of electronic waste – Electrorecycling has been the company chosen to collect and prepare the waste in order to separate it.
  • Separation and collection of raw material – HG Chatarrería
  • Other actors – the company is currently looking for other partners to complete the chain.

Here we show you a part of the process that results in valuable raw materials such as copper, PVC plastic and other metals.

 

The third step: activating the reverse traceability chain based on blockchain.

One of the most innovative and disruptive elements of this process is the possibility of following it through the Revivack platform in a transparent and reliable way thanks to its traceability system of 3TR Recovery Chains with blockchain system.

In this link you can see that during these first 6 months almost a ton of raw material has been recovered.

 

And then everybody wins. That is the essence of the circular economy

Thanks to this recovery chain we have avoided the generation of a tonne of waste at the moment, we made it possible to generate certified raw material, and we have created a halo of global satisfaction for doing things well and with common sense, something that always happens when aiming at the circular economy ;).