How Businesses Dispose of Electronic Waste
E-waste is a growing problem in the United States. As the shelf life of electronics decreases and we are buying more and more gadgets and products, e-waste is piling up in landfills when it is disposed of improperly.
In landfills, the toxins in the metals emit harmful gases and get sucked into the soil, causing problems for the environment and human beings. Electronic waste and how to manage it can be a serious problem for business owners.
How businesses dispose of electronic waste depends on the type of business and the area. In the United States, businesses are regulated state-wide and federally and must follow all of the regulations in their state regarding the proper disposal of unwanted electronics.
The Benefits of Electronics Recycling for Your Business
Whether you work in a corporate office or from a home office, chances are that you’ve got multiple outdated, unused electronics sitting around.
New technologies are being developed and discarded at an unparalleled rate. From computer monitors to smartphones, massive consumer demands mean that we are using more electronics.
There are many benefits to recycling your company’s electronic waste properly. Security concerns from leftover storage can be eliminated and valuable office space can be reclaimed. Precious metals and hazardous materials will be properly salvaged and prepared for reuse. The key is finding a reputable e-waste recycling service that will fit your specific needs and handle your e-waste properly and professionally.
What is E-Waste?
Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, is any electronic equipment that has reached its end of use or been discarded. E-waste makes up only 2% of America’s trash in landfills but accounts for 70% of overall toxic waste.
E-waste has become a near-permanent thorn in the side of the daily operations of businesses in every sector. Turnover rates for new devices like computers, servers, monitors, and more have become incredibly high and it is expected that a company will have to overhaul or constantly update its hardware capital every year.
Unlike other types of basic recyclable products, e-waste recycling involves more nuanced environmental and legal considerations. Most electronic waste contains rare earth materials and strong chemicals, some of which can be very expensive and other extremely toxic.
Businesses must also consider the myriad of local and state regulations that dictate the proper disposal of e-waste. So far, 27 US states and the District of Columbia have signed regulations that dictate the proper processes for e-waste recycling and disposal for both manufacturers and businesses, with California boasting some of the most stringent laws. For reference, check out this recent example involving Target.
Consider the average electronics you might see across an office space – their core components are made of a vast combination of different elements, chemicals, and materials. Some are harmless and abundant, while others are expensive and significantly dangerous to handle.
Circuit boards in computers and phones are made of copper and fiberglass and fitted with gold and silver components among others. The EPA estimates that “one metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the United States”.
Electronics also contain a host of fundamentally toxic materials, like the mercury used for LCD displays and lead for soldering. Other toxic heavy metals like beryllium and cadmium are found in most circuit board components. Many plastics are treated with brominated flame retardants, which are harmful to human livers and nervous systems when they are released via burning.
Recycling e-waste properly can help to reclaim and repurpose the available material, and properly dispose of hazardous components. Many states offer electronic waste buyback programs and recycling centers. While these may provide good options for civilian purposes, such programs are often inconveniently located and only accept electronics that fit a certain category.
The question of what to do with our growing e-waste problem is undoubtedly one of the hardest ones to tackle in the 21st century. Unfortunately, our current global system involves a lot of temporary solutions.
Many developed nations ship their e-waste to developing nations (often illegally), which may employ civilians to harvest the electronics in an unsafe manner. Other times companies in developed nations will simply bite the bullet and dump illegally in their backyards.
Utilizing an e-waste vendor will help a company properly identify and quantify the amount of unused electronic assets that are suitable for recycling. An e-waste vendor will work with a company to create an actionable plan on how to recycle its unused assets, and it will provide the convenience of transportation and rigorous documentation at every step to guarantee a lawful process.
Why is E-Waste Such a Huge Problem?
The rise of the Internet and modern smart technologies has transformed society’s perception of electronics as a necessity. The most modern technologies are crucial for any business to maintain competitiveness and relevance. This rapid rate of modernization has a significant downside – we are producing electronic waste at record rates, and only 20% of e-waste is properly recycled at a global level.
A couple of factors contribute to this number. Firstly, there is the simple fact that many countries do not have a proper and convenient legal apparatus for disposing of e-waste. As of today, there is only one federal law in the United States that directly addresses e-waste dumping known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and it’s quite outdated.
Secondly, developing countries especially have an economic incentive to take in electronic waste from across the world. The previously mentioned statistic regarding the amount of harvestable gold in circuit boards can be applied to all sorts of materials in electronic waste.
While e-waste is produced at the highest levels in first-world countries (America stands in first place with an estimated 9.4 million tons of e-waste thrown out per year), lesser developed countries often see the worst of its negative effects.
Informal recycling centers in China, West Africa, and the Philippines among others are shipped millions of tons of electronic waste yearly from across the world, with the United States exporting 50-70% of its own collected e-waste to these locations.
These informal workshops see men and women, and sometimes children combing through fields of electronic components to retrieve valuable recyclable materials, often with bare hands and improper safety considerations.
Guiyu, China processes more electronic waste than any other city in the world. As such, it has adopted the charming nickname “the electronic graveyard of the world”. Much of its electronic waste is believed to have come from developed nations, which often work hard to “aggressively ignore” laws and regulations like the EU’s sanctions against exporting waste illegally and US laws like the aforementioned RCRA which explicitly states that a country must consent to receive electronic waste.
Recycling operations in Guiyu are reflective of other developing nations – according to Wikipedia, devices are often “cracked open by hand” to retrieve more valuable materials, while circuit boards are “cooked” or melted down to liberate internal components. The resulting toxic gases are swept throughout the city, poisoning the water supply and raising toxic lead levels, so much so that 80% of children in Guiyu suffer from lead poisoning.
E-waste pollution also affects those in developed nations as well. Companies have been known to illegally dump their electronics into landfills, which risk polluting groundwater supplies with toxic chemicals as they seep into the underlying soil.
Beyond environmental concerns, e-waste can be a major security issue if it is not handled properly. Electronics like hard drives and other storage media (CD-ROM, floppy disk, etc) can be found in landfills or trash receptacles with sensitive corporate or personal information on them.
If an entity decides to shortcut proper e-waste recycling practices, it runs the risk of exposing confidential information. For example, classified information regarding contracts and agreements between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, and Defense Intelligence Agency was found on a hard drive sitting in a landfill in Ghana.
When improperly handled, e-waste becomes a convenience issue, environmental hazard, and security liability. E-waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world, and it will only continue to grow – the world is expected to produce 111 million tons of e-waste annually by the year 2050, more than double the 50 million tons we average per year today.
A business will position itself ahead of the curve by employing the services of an e-waste vendor to handle your recycling needs so that those concerns never affect your business operations.
What are the Benefits of Recycling Electronics?
Electronics recycling can be beneficial in many forms. Recycling can prolong the life of the base components and materials for reuse. It also provides the client with the confidence and peace of mind that any potential environmental or legal concerns are mitigated. Moreover, any data breach concerns from leftover storage media information will be properly destroyed. Let’s break down these benefits one by one:
Handling Base Components
Utilizing an e-waste vendor to recycle electronics will ensure that every eligible component will be allocated for re-use. Keeping these components in a cycle of the usability will reduce the amount of hazardous materials that pollute the environment.
Any component deemed unusable or unsafe will be lawfully and comprehensively disposed of. The average Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) computer monitor can contain up to four and a half pounds of lead. This lead will never see a landfill when a computer is handed to a reputable e-waste vendor.
Additionally, recycling resources cuts down on the greenhouse gasses that would have been used to create new components, essentially lowering a company’s carbon footprint.
Legal Concerns are Mitigated
As was mentioned before, 27 states in America have regulations regarding illegal dumping and recycling of hazardous electronic waste. Though a company has a responsibility to be cognizant of these laws, it can quickly become very complicated to assure that all legal ducks are in a row.
E-waste vendors are only as good as their reputation, which in this industry is built upon professionalism and thorough understanding of state regulations as well as adherence to international quality regulations.
Neutralize Security Concerns
Any electronics capable of storing memory are potential liabilities to a company. Anyone mistake, like an improperly tossed hard drive, can expose highly privileged corporate information and may lead to a data breach.
Data breaches have risen at a steady pace due to our dependence on electronics as a storage medium. In 2017 alone, there were 1,579 confirmed data breaches. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach to the company is $3.86 million.
Avoid unnecessary exposure of sensitive company information by properly recycling old hard drives and storage media. An e-waste vendor will ensure that all information is neutralized and document every step of the process to give the client an extra peace of mind.
How Can My Company Recycle Electronics at Scale?
Your company needs to be aware of all the various forms of e-recycling available for your region. Between nonprofit organizations, city-organized collections, electronic buyback programs, and e-waste vendors, there are plenty of opportunities to find the right apparatus that will fit the scale of your recycling needs.
Nonprofit groups across the U.S. provide recycling programs for various types of electronics. Call2Recycle is an organization that offers drop-off locations for old cell phones and rechargeable batteries. Organizations such as these are very helpful to individual consumers but don’t necessarily fit business operations.
Often, counties and individual cities will sponsor collection days for old electronics. Depending on the size of the operation, there might be no problem for a company bringing a large number of old electronics. These programs are also helpful but the transportation logistics and type of electronics accepted are two negative factors.
Manufacturers may offer buyback programs for specific electronics. This option is great if a company has streamlined its work products to a specific type and model, and has the resources to transport these electronics. However, those buyback programs are limited in scope and may not guarantee that your old devices are recycled properly.
When a company assesses its need to recycle electronics, often there are various types of devices involved. Rarely will a company only need to recycle a batch of brand-specific computer monitors. Often there will be a few separate devices that need to be accounted for.
E-waste vendors are different from the aforementioned options because they are designed to properly handle and recycle electronics of all kinds. E-waste companies will offer drop-off locations, or provide transportation service that will come right to your office to maximize convenience and efficiency.
An added advantage of e-waste vendors is the rigorous documentation process involved with any kind of electronics transaction. E-waste vendors guarantee transparency through every step of the process, ensuring accountability with their clients.
How do I Select the Right Electronics Recycling Service?
Selecting the right electronics recycling service may seem like a daunting task. In reality, there are a few considerations that an organization needs to take into account to make the right choice.
How much e-waste does your business have to account for? Any significant amount of electronic waste will require transportation and documentation to ensure that everything is in the right place. Choosing a service with the ability to scale their operations to your company’s needs is crucial
E-waste recycling is no small operation. The complexities of the collection and recycling process can quickly overwhelm or hamstring a company whose operations rely on time management. E-waste vendors maintain an advantage in this area because they will provide transportation options.
A company must be sure that whichever option it chooses, it will be able to hand over all of the unused e-waste assets it has accumulated. If a vendor, buy-back, or community drop-off location does not have the tools to recycle all of the e-waste you want to get rid of, then the problem is not fully solved.
As is the case with most things in life, you get what you pay for. A free electronics drop-off site or another cheap alternative might provide a nice convenience, but there are always trade-offs like lack of transparency and inability to recycle certain products.
When employing the services of a respected e-waste vendor, the cost of the transaction ensures a comprehensive process. Like any business, vendors are incentivized to provide the highest quality service to grow their brand.
This is perhaps the most important factor. When deciding how to recycle your electronics, the reputation of the potential vendor or service is a critical component to consider. A company that values professionalism and ease of communication will always consider a vendor’s reputation before making a decision.
Going with the right e-waste recycling service can be a challenge. Once your organization has analyzed its needs, the process can become a lot simpler. Your company will value an e-waste vendor that provides ease of communication, thorough documentation, and highly professional recycling practices.
These are good questions to ask if you are choosing a recycler:
- Does the recycler take care of hard drive wiping and data destruction?
- What certifications does the vendor have?
- How is the material taken care of? How will the vendor handle all of the demanufacture and final disposal of all the components and harmful materials? Will any equipment be exported?
- How long has the vendor been in business? Can they provide references?
Why Businesses Dispose of Electronic Should Be a Concern
Mismanaging electronics can turn out to be a liability for your business. If it chooses a collector that manages or disposes of electronics improperly, the business may be liable for the cleanup because they generated the waste. Businesses should put a lot of thought into who they choose to collect their electronics. How businesses dispose of electronic waste will vary according to their size and area. Larger companies tend to handle electronic waste disposal in-house, while smaller companies rely on local vendors and recyclers for direction. The main takeaway here is that if you do not handle your ewaste disposal properly you could be putting your business at risk.
Electronic waste is not a problem that will be going away any time soon. In fact, it is expected to get worse. “300 million computers and 1 BILLION cell phones are put into production each year. This global mountain of waste is expected to continue growing 8% per year, indefinitely. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators.” Taking the time to properly research how business recycles electronic waste is a good step in the right direction.
Who is All Green Electronics Recycling?
All Green Electronics Recycling provides all of those functions and has developed a reputation as one of the premier e-waste vendors in the United States. Organizations of all sizes in the public, private and military sectors have utilized All Green’s services for their operations. Here’s a small list of notable clients:
- Farmer’s Insurance
- United States Department of Treasury
All Green Electronics Recycling could be the vendor to ensure that your company’s e-waste needs are met, and will leave no stone unturned in the process of providing customer satisfaction. Invest in your company’s security and environmental compliance by choosing All Green for e-waste recycling services. Click here to read more about All Green’s services or request a quote directly.
Check out our blog to learn more about laptop recycling.