The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the End-of-Life for
Clausthal University of Technology
Institute for Software and Systems Engineering
Clausthal University of Technology
Institute for Software and Systems Engineering
Abstract—The progressing severe environmental pollution and
dwindling nonrenewable resources force society to increase the
reuse of electronic waste (e-waste) to ensure the availability
of sufﬁcient resources for future products and an environment
worth living in. The constant growth and expansion of the
Internet of Things (IoT) and related smart devices ampliﬁes the
aforementioned problem, especially since a large amount of e-
waste is either not disposed of correctly or hoarded at home.
Thus, a solution is required to ease and incentivize the correct
disposal of e-waste. While the growing number of smart devices
increases the amount of e-waste, they also offer new technical
opportunities to solve the very same problem they create. Instead
of relying on the smart device owner to correctly dispose them at
the recycling center, smart devices could arrange their delivery
to the nearby recycling center themselves in a self-organized
manner once they reach their end-of-life or are not used any
further by the owner. This work introduces the Hitchhiker service
platform that addresses the given problem of smart device e-
waste. We outline the ecosystem and its stakeholders by following
the Design Science Research approach. Moreover, we introduce
the Hitchhiker system architecture for a self-adaptive disposal
system of smart devices and explain selected system engagement
processes. Finally, we discuss extensions of the service platform
to support non-smart legacy devices that are not yet capable of
organizing their own disposal logistics.
Index Terms—Circular Economy, Internet of Things, Self-
Adaptive System, e-waste, Smart Contract.
I. MOTIVATION AND INTRODUCTION
In 2019, a record of 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste
(e-waste) was generated worldwide  – even more e-waste is
expected to be produced in the coming years. These ﬁgures do
not include the large quantities of old electrical and electronic
devices (EE-devices) hoarded at their owners’ homes instead
of being disposed of correctly. On the one hand, EE-devices
contain valuable raw materials, such as gold, silver, and cobalt.
On the other hand, the recycling rate in Germany is below
40%. Other European countries like the Netherlands, Austria,
or Spain have similarly low rates. Therefore, the raw materials
can not be recovered properly . There are various reasons
for the low collection rates. Sometimes, an EE-device owner
does not know how and where to dispose of the device or
is mistakenly disposed of incorrectly (so-called miss sorting).
Other reasons are lack of incentives or merely the cumulative
inconveniences of the disposal process.
Stimulated by the constant growth and expansion of the
Internet of Things (IoT) , , as well as the progressing
digitization of our daily life, e.g., , , sensor technologies
and micro-controllers are becoming cheaper and smarter .
Smart home devices, smartphones, smart TVs, and so on are
continuously – or at least once in a while – connected to
the Internet. Smart devices aim to support our daily life and
make it easier. To do so, they can collaborate and organize
themselves in autonomous and self-adaptive systems. A self-
adaptive system encompasses an environment where the sys-
tem itself can modify its behavior and/or structure in response
to its perception of the environment and the system itself .
However, like every other EE-device, a smart device eventually
reaches its end-of-life or end-of-use. Given the increasing
adoption of smart devices, the quantity of smart devices e-
waste is expected to grow as well. But, what happens to a
smart device once it reaches its end-of-life?
A. Problem Statement and Objective
Self-adaptive systems are designed to be smart, resilient, and
able to react to failures . However, thus far, they do not deal
with the question of how to manage the disposal of a failed
smart device. The owner of the device is required to take care
of the disposal. This results in the same obstacles mentioned
above, such as a lack of knowledge and missing incentives.
Furthermore, the owner needs to be notiﬁed that the device
is broken. That information might be pretty obvious when the
device is a smartphone or a smart TV. However, it is rarely
the case when referring to an autonomous home automation
device that the owner does not use on a daily base or where the
owner does not recognize the device’s failure or misbehavior
In an ideal world, smart devices would organize themselves
completely autonomously, including their disposal process.
However, this is not the case yet since a broken device can
neither do so anymore, nor can it request its owner to do
so. Incentives, such as a deposit system for EE-devices, may
overcome some of the obstacles mentioned above. Neverthe-
less, the example of the deposit system for car batteries in
Germany indicates that many owners are not aware that such
incentive structures exist or that the existing disposal process is
too complicated. Currently, only the initial retailer may refund
2021 International Symposium on Software Engineering for Adaptive and Self-Managing Systems (SEAMS)
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the battery deposit, which can become complicated after a few
years. As a result, the consumer is inclined to write-off the
deposit (in Germany, 7.5C per car battery).
Therefore, this paper proposes and outlines the Hitchhiker
ecosystem that eases the correct disposal of broken EE-
devices and enables them to organize their disposal process
autonomously by hitchhiking to the recycling center.
B. Research Methodology
Research in this paper is conducted following the Design
Science Research (DSR) methodology. The DSR paradigm
“seeks to extend the boundaries of human and organizational
capabilities by creating new and innovative artifacts” .
We utilize the three-cycle view as proposed by Hevner ,
consisting of three closely related cycles of activities for
designing an artifact. First, the Relevance Cycle analyses the
environment and the speciﬁc requirements of the involved
stakeholders in this environment. Second, the Rigor Cycle
provides domain knowledge, such as related research. Finally,
the Design Cycle supports the design of the new artifact .
The subsequent Section I-C details a running case, which is
aligned with the DSR methodology and used throughout this
work to illustrate various aspects of the Hitchhiker service
platform and its ecosystem.
C. Running Case
Precondition: We consider an existing deposit system for
EE-Devices where every EE-Device is equipped with a speciﬁc
amount of money. Here, every smart device has a 25C deposit.
Moreover, on deployment within a smart home environment,
each smart device is registered on the Hitchhiker blockchain.
The deposit resides within the smart device’s wallet.
Process: Figure 1 shows a simpliﬁed overview of the
Hitchhiker ecosystem. The Owner of a Smart Home is in
possession of smart devices. Moreover, we consider all smart
devices to monitor each other in a P2P manner. In our running
case, a smart device, e.g., Smart device 2 breaks and reaches
its end-of-life. Since the owner is not interested in disposing
of the device and getting his deposit back, the Smart Home has
to organize a pickup on its own. However, the Smart Home
has to ask the Owner for permission before initiating any of
the steps described below.
Another smart device recognizes the malfunction of Smart
device 1 and reports it to the Smart Home. The Smart Home
can determine the deposit size of 25C since the broken smart
device was pre-registered on the Hitchhiker Blockchain. Next,
the Smart Home creates a request on the Hitchhiker service
platform to pick up and recycle the broken smart device
for an overall price that is equal or less to the deposit.
One or many 3rd party logistic providers may accept the
offer and pick up the broken smart device to deliver it to a
recycling center. Please note that multiple logistic providers
could collaborate on a hop-by-hop base to deliver the smart
device to the ﬁnal destination. The recycling center conﬁrms
the delivery, updates its status to recycled on the Blockchain
while the 3rd party logistic providers receive their share of
Smart device 2
Smart device 3
Smart device 1
Fig. 1. Hitchhiker ecosystem overview.
the deposit money from the broken smart device (the initial
25C). Alternatively, a small share of the deposit could also
remain with the device owner as an incentive to participate
in the Hitchhike ecosystem. The overall Service platform is
operated by the State who is incentivized to do so to fulﬁll its
legal recycling rate obligations and ensure sufﬁcient access to
resources for its industry and reduce environmental pollution
to an absolute minimum.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows: Sec-
tion II introduces supplementary literature and related work.
Section III focuses on the system design and architecture of
the Hitchhiker ecosystem. Afterwards, Section IV details the
system engagement processes while Section V discusses the
ﬁndings of our paper. Finally, Section VI concludes this work
and provides an outlook on future work.
II. BACKGROUND AND RELATED WORK
In line with the DSR methodology, this section analyzes the
main issues and the minimum requirements of different stake-
holders based on the running case introduced in Section I-C
following the DSR Relevance Cycle. We ﬁrst introduce the
problem of e-waste in general and subsequently analyze a
selection of main barriers that lead to low return rates. In
the second part, we deal with related work to provide domain
knowledge, thereby relating to the DSR Rigor Cycle.
A. The Problem of e-waste
The growing demand for electrical and electronic products
has drastically increased the global amount of e-waste .
As already mentioned before, 53.6 million tonnes of electronic
waste were generated worldwide, just in 2019 . The e-waste
contains valuable materials that have an economic value when
recycled  but can also help to reduce the need to extract
virgin raw materials in favor of recycling existing resources,
e.g., there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of mobile
phones than in any tonne of gold ore . Nevertheless, the
potential of recycling is still unused, as proven by the low
collection rates in many European countries . Additional
complications arise through varying implementations of e-
waste regulations such as the Swiss Ordinance on the Return,
Taking Back and Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equip-
ment (Swiss ORDEE), the European Union Waste of Electrical
and Electronic Equipment (EU WEEE), and different rules in
all US states . Moreover, illegal exports complicate the
issue of e-waste .
Another barrier towards efﬁcient recycling of e-waste are the
owners and users of EE-products. In Germany, 124 million cell
phones remain unused in drawers or boxes after reaching their
end-of-use or end-of-life . The reasons for lack of willing-
ness to recycle are manifold: Ignorance and laziness, missing
incentives, or just a low level of awareness of environment-
friendly behavior. According to , two factors are decisive
for this behavior: The behavioral costs incurred in recycling,
such as the time and money spent, and the existing intrinsic
motivation to act in an environmentally friendly and resource-
For the design of our artifact, we particularly focus on the
problem of illegal exports and the lack of user awareness. The
ﬁrst will be tackled by tracing the smart devices via blockchain
technology, while the second is addressed by proposing the
self-organized Hitchhiker service platform for smart devices.
B. Supplementary Literature & Related Work
Previous work of the authors  already introduced a
blockchain-based deposit system to reduce WEEE. Consumers
have to pay a small fee when they buy a new EE-device, and
the device is registered on a blockchain. After the device’s
professional disposal (and recycling), the consumer receives
the deposit money back. A comparable deposit system already
exists for car (starter) batteries in Germany, but it is not
well known. The limitations of similar systems are again the
consumers. If the deposit amount is too small, the consumer
will still not change his/her behavior .
An alternative approach to the traditional oral or paper writ-
ten contracts for transactions and collaborations are electronic
blockchain-based smart contracts that allow to govern business
transactions using a computerized transaction protocol such as
a blockchain. Blockchain technology ensures a trustworthy,
secure platform for peer-to-peer transactions and enables a
distributed, transparent way for communication. More general,
a blockchain is a distributed ledger that enables users to
send data, process it and verify it without the need for a
central entity . Moreover, smart contracts allow for the
automated, globally-available orchestration and choreography
of heterogeneous socio-technical systems with a loosely cou-
pled, P2P-like network structure. Additionally, a blockchain-
based smart contract-driven platform enables fact tracking,
non-repudiation, auditability, and tamper-resistant storage of
information among distributed participants without a central
The utilization of blockchain technology allows for creating
shared, secure, decentralized ledgers, smart contracts and
enables trustworthy and secure networks. These networks are
applicable in supply chain management and facing some of
the current barriers there . Korpela et al. proved the high
potential of blockchain technology for digital supply chain
management in a case study . One of these supply chains is
also waste management, where Ongena et al. already presented
a proof-of-concept . Gupta and Bedi  present another
approach for e-waste management based on blockchain and
smart contracts. They propose a novel approach for e-waste
management in India to improve the coordination and enable
the government to regulate the collection and recycling.
Since more and more devices are connected to the Internet
– thereby establishing the Internet of Things – there is a high
potential for self-adapting e-waste management systems, based
on the approaches introduced above. Smart devices, such as
smart fridges or printers, can monitor themselves and reorder
new food or a new printer cartridge before running out of it.
Moreover, IoT devices are proposed for waste management
in different environments, as shown in the context of smart
cities , .
Finally, in previous work, we introduced the Machine-to-
Everything (M2X) economy and its ecosystem, a combination
of the introduced technologies above, to enable an autonomous
economy for smart devices .
III. SYSTEM DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE
The recycling process of e-waste is a multi-stakeholder pro-
cess that requires a diligent orchestration to ease the process
and avoid any barriers that stop stakeholders from participat-
ing, i.e., not correctly recycling their e-waste. Subsequently,
we describe the proposed systems’ high-level architecture.
This section focuses on the abstract architecture of the
Hitchhiker system. We suggest an architecture with well-
deﬁned and self-contained components that provide a spec-
iﬁed set of services. A technology-agnostic UML component
diagram representation is chosen to illustrate the system ar-
chitecture , .
The highest architecture abstraction level of our system
is depicted in Figure 2. The UML representation is divided
into three packages, e.g., the Hitchhiker Platform package,
the Blockchain package, and the Smart Home package, as
well as a single component for administrating the platform.
The package illustration approach provides a separation of
concerns between the three different main system building
blocks. Each package in itself consists of various components
A. Smart Home
First, we focus on the Smart Home package which contains
three components – The Smart Device Management Unit
(SDMU), the Blockchain-Client and the Wallet component.
The SDMU is the central communication hub of the smart
home connecting the installed smart devices among each other,
with the Internet, the Service Platform package, and with its
Fig. 2. Abstract high-level overview of the self-organized smart device recycling Hitchhiker system architecture.
owner, who can conﬁgure and administrate the smart home
environment via the SDMU. While the SDMU could be de-
ployed on a special-purpose device, any standard smart home
hub, a Raspberry Pi, or an extended Amazon Alexa could
serve the same purpose. Part of the SDMU is the Observer
sub-component that monitors the smart devices, as described
in Section I-C, and detects eventual system failure. Next, the
Blockchain-Client covers all blockchain-related interactions
of the Smart Home package, e.g., smart contract input and
output processing or payment related activities as discussed in
more detail later in Section IV. Finally, the Wallet component
is closely linked to the Blockchain-Client and manages the
cryptocurrency accounting in the form of wallets for the smart
home owner and the connected smart devices. The component
holds the public and private key pairs that represent the
blockchain wallet addresses.
B. Hitchhiker Service Platform
The Service Platform package consists of two main com-
ponents (User-Interface (UI) and Service component) and six
further sub-components. The UI-component is the gatekeeper
for the human stakeholders – such as smart device owners,
human third-party logistic providers, the recycling center, etc.
– and used to control all functionalities from the user side and
interact with the service platform.
The Service component encapsulates all submodules that
are necessary to ensure the service-provision of our platform.
While human stakeholders access the service via the UI,
machines rely on a direct API link to the component. Next, the
Account Management component covers the registration and
authentication of human and machine stakeholders. Human
stakeholders need accounts to enact contractual agreements
and payments related to the entire logistics process of our
platform. Speciﬁc payment and accounting related activities
in the form of digital currency, such as transferring the smart
device deposit after it has been delivered to the recycling
center, are enacted in the Payment component. The Monitoring
component is tasked to achieve non-reputable accountability
using comprehensive monitoring mechanisms for all digital
processes, and their corresponding parameters is necessary.
The non-reputable accountability of contractual agreements is
a critical aspect of every business process, e.g., an agreed-
upon transportation destination or the agreed-upon amount
of requested/delivered products for a speciﬁed price. The
same applies to the timely delivery of speciﬁed quantities
of goods or services with quality parameters. Moreover, the
monitoring logs are essential in case of conﬂicts among
any stakeholders. Calming and disruptive conﬂict resolution
mechanisms – as proposed by  – are employed by the
Conﬂict Resolution component based on monitored parameters
of the previous component. Finally, the Off-Chain Service
Integration component enables the platform’s key service
and mediates between non-blockchain and blockchain service
modules. It connects the previous components of a classi-
cal web-application with the decentralized and self-organized
components of a blockchain-based smart application. Further
details of these interactions are presented in Section IV as part
of the system engagement processes.
C. On-Chain Services and Administration
Third, the Blockchain package connects on the one hand
to the blockchain client of the Smart Home package, and
on the other hand to the aforementioned Service Platform
package. It contains the actual blockchain storage and the
orchestration of smart contracts that facilitate a self-organized
service provision among connected smart devices. The Plat-
form Master SC is the main entrance point represented by
the – from a hierarchical perspective – master smart contract
(SC) of the service platform. The master SC spawns sub-
SCs for speciﬁc sub-tasks such as the supply and demand
matching, the on-chain auction, the device registration, and
logistic-related activities. More details on the whole lifecycle
follow in Section IV. Matching the request of a smart device or
its corresponding SDMU to transport a device to the recycling
center with a logistic provider (either a machine or a human) is
managed by the Supply/Demand Coordination component in
the form of a speciﬁc smart contract. Once a potential match
occurs, automated negotiations of the contractual constraints
(price, destination, pick up location, time, etc.) are processed
in the Negotiation component. Successful negotiations result
in a digital contract instantiation that deﬁnes all stakeholders’
rights and obligations pertaining to the transport of the smart
device to the recycling center. The service enactment of the
transporting of the smart device and all related monitoring
activities are handled by the TaaS-SC (Transportation-as-a-
Service Smart Contract) component - that spawns an instance
for each particular transport event. Besides the TaaS-SC com-
ponent, we also have a Device-Registration SC component
that receives smart devices’ requests to be registered on
the blockchain platform to be eligible for recycling center
transportation in the future when their end-of-life is reached.
To register a device on the blockchain, no human interaction is
required. The Hitchhiker blockchain-tracking of smart devices
prevents illegal exports of e-waste since any smart device is
registered on-chain and tracked until its arrival at a state-
operated or state-veriﬁed recycling center where it is recycled.
To manage the platform, the operator, i.e., the government,
has access to the Platform Administration-component that not
only allows managing the platform itself (user management,
payment management, device management, etc.) but also to
create so-called master smart contracts for the supply- and
demand coordination, on-chain auctions, device registrations,
and the TaaS-SC.
IV. SYSTEM ENGAGEMENT PROCESSES
The Hitchhiker service platform automates and simpliﬁes
the return of end-of-life smart devices (SDs) in a self-
organizing manner, thereby supporting Circular Economy
goals such as reuse, repair, and recycling. A core element of
the Hitchhiker platform is its digital smart contract enactment
capability that allows for a high degree of self-organization and
Digital Contract Lifecycle
SD Pick-Up Negotiation
Fig. 3. Digital Collaboration and Negotiation Contract Lifecycle – Based
on , , , 
automation among the ecosystem’s stakeholders, especially the
non-human actors. In , , , Norta presents a con-
ceptual smart contract-based collaboration lifecycle for digital
business engagement which  applies to a generalized
Machine-to-Everything Economy (M2X Economy). Figure 3
depicts an adaption of the same underlying digital contact
lifecycle for the Hitchhiker platform following the outlined
scenario from Section I-C. The processes are represented using
Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) . The
lifecycle, as illustrated in Figure 3, is divided into six stages:
i.)initialization, ii.)negotiation, iii.)preparation iv.)pick-up
v.)rollback, and vi.)termination stage.
During the initialization stage, based on pre-conﬁgured
templates (in our case, a template for a Transportation-as-a-
Service Smart Contract), information regarding the involved
entities, such as identiﬁers, locations, smart device-related
information, and wallet addresses are incorporated into the
contract. Besides, the conditions of the requested contract are
formally deﬁned by specifying, e.g., the content and target
of the contract. Following the example from Section I-C,
this might include the departure location, ﬁnal destination,
and pick-up time and payment information. The conditions
of the requested transportation service mainly depend on in-
formation such as the vehicle’s travel distance and fuel/energy
consumption. In case the third-party logistic provider and the
smart device agree on the negotiated conditions in stage ii).,
both parties sign the contract and express their approval –
if no agreement is reached, a contract rollback is triggered.
A SC between the involved parties is established and serves
as a coordinating agent. Each participating entity receives a
local contract copy containing the respective obligations of
each party , e.g., transporting the smart device to the
correct location. The participants “obligations are observed
by monitors and assigned business-network model agents
(BNMA) that connect to IoT-sensors”  such as the logistic
During stage iii.), the required process endpoints (e.g.,
payment processing) are provided and prepared. “Once the
e-governance infrastructure is set up, technically realizing the
behavior in the local copies of the contracts requires concrete
local electronic services. After picking these services follows
the creation of communication endpoints so that the partners’
services can communicate with each other. The ﬁnal step of
the preparation is a liveness check of the channel-connected
services” . Afterward, the contract execution phase is
triggered and the logistics provider picks up the smart device
at the owners’ smart home.
The contract terminates or expires either after the smart
device is delivered to the recycling center or when the contract
is prematurely terminated. Failing to transport the smart device
to the recycling center might result in an immediate rollback
of the smart contract or invokes a mediation process that is
supervised by a conﬂict resolution escrow service that is not
depicted in Figure 3.
The presented lifecycle also includes incentives in case the
user behaves correctly and punishment of bad behavior, e.g.,
by paying a penalty. A severe violation of the contract from
any of the involved parties might result in early termination or
a rollback. While some conﬂicts may be handled in a calming
manner that allows continuing the collaboration enactment,
others may cause early termination of the collaboration.
V. D ISCUSSION
The presented ecosystem and the Hitchhiker service plat-
form predominantly focus on solving the upcoming problem
of end-of-life disposal of smart devices. However, disposal of
non-smart devices and e-waste, in general, could be managed
by our solution as well with only minor changes. Instead of
organizing the pick-up and delivery to the recycling center on
its own, legacy e-waste without smart capabilities could rely
on identiﬁers such as device registration numbers, production
IDs, QR codes, etc., which are entered by the owner into an
app that is connected to the Hitchhiker service platform. The
necessary extra step and the owner’s explicit involvement add
further complexity and a motivation barrier, but at the same
time extend the applicability of our solution with only minor
drawbacks. However, a generalization beyond e-waste requires
Due to the current limitations of autonomous machines,
e.g., vehicles, drones, a human logistic provider is required
to facilitate pick up, transport, and delivery of end-of-life
smart devices. In the future, autonomous machines may start
to replace human logistic providers as part of a new machine-
driven economy  depending on the complexity of the smart
devices pick up activity, e.g., picking up a smart fridge and
getting it out of the house is more complicated than just
picking up a smartphone.
While this work favors a self-organized and decentralized
model with an open and interoperable ecosystem, a centralized
alternative with an omniscient control unit that is aware of
all existing smart devices (or e-waste in general), its current
status, where and when the disposal is required simpliﬁes
the overall architecture. Instead of a gig-economy like match-
making, the central control unit might even employ logistic
providers directly. The same applies to future scenarios where
machines replace human logistic providers.
VI. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
This paper introduces the Hitchhiker service platform and
its corresponding ecosystem to tackle particular problems of
e-waste and its disposal. Irrespective of the multitude of prob-
lems and challenges in this area, we focuse on the problems
of illegal export of e-waste, the lack of user awareness for the
correct disposal, and the inconvenience of the disposal process.
The Hitchhiker service platform consists of three main
elements: First, the Smart Home component, which manages
and observes the smart devices. In case a smart device reaches
its end-of-life, other smart devices of the same household trig-
ger the corresponding disposal process. The service platform
takes over the matchmaking between smart devices, third-
party logistic providers, and recycling centers. The blockchain
component enables the smart contract-based matchmaking and
further monitors and tracks all contract-related activities.
Digital smart contracts allow for a high degree of self-
organization and automation among smart devices. Once the
Hitchhiker service platform matched a broken device to a lo-
gistic provider who transports the device to the next recycling
center, a separate smart contract is created that ensures fact
tracking, non-repudiation, auditability, and tamper-resistant
storage of information among all stakeholders and orchestrates
related heterogeneous software services of involved stake-
holders. As a result, the Hitchhiker ecosystem successfully
addresses the two identiﬁed main issues: First, the illegal
export of devices, by tracing the disposal process to operated
or state-veriﬁed recycling centers. Second, we provide an
incentive-based on the deposit linked to every smart device
that can be either retrieved by the owner when disposing the
device to the recycling center on his/her own or is used by
the smart device to pay for its transportation to the recycling
center via one or multiple logistic providers.
Thus far, the Hitchhiker service platform and its ecosystem
are early stage research. Future work focuses on the imple-
mentation and deployment of its services while iterating on its
design. Furthermore, as already mentioned in the discussion
above, we are committed to extend the concept for other types
of waste, as well as classical, not smart e-waste. Additional
research also focuses on adding predictive error recognition
capabilities to the Smart Home component or integrating them
directly into the smart devices. Moreover, the current system
design relies on human logistic providers to deliver devices
to the recycling center. However, in the future autonomous
machines could take over the job, at least for some categories
of smart devices that do not require a complex dismantling
process to remove them from the owners’ house. Finally, smart
devices often rely on personal data to be processed. Thus,
further research with regards to the privacy and security of
the proposed solution is necessary.
This paper evolved from the research project “WEEE-Harz,”
which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education
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