Over the last two decades, the use of electronics has grown substantially, providing the business world with increased capabilities, global networks, and faster results. This shift to e-business has also introduced one of the rising problems in waste management: ensuring the proper disposal and sustainable treatment of outdated electronics. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of 2007, approximately 235 million obsolete units were shifted to storage; this figure includes more than 65 million desktop computers and 42 million monitors. Remaining relatively constant over this time is the recycling rate of outdated electronics, at only 15 percent.
The scope of electronics in your building that are able to be safely recycled may surprise you. Though the majority of applicable products are computers and monitors, it's important to consider a wider range of electronics when faced with disposal planning. Recyclable e-waste includes everything from telephones, data servers, and peripherals to security components and kitchen and cafeteria equipment.
Recycling electronics is becoming an increasingly practical option for facilities that need to dispose of waste material. The benefits are many: Not only will recycling outdated electronics free up storage space, but it can also ensure that sustainable corporate mandates are enforced, provide data security, return funds in the form of precious metals reclamation, and prevent facility owners from incurring fines for improper disposal.
Electronics contain valuable resource components, from precious metals to engineered plastics, all of which require substantial energy to manufacture and process. Recycling these components into new products uses fewer resources than manufacturing them from unique materials, resulting in lower environmental emissions. Additionally, e-cycling ensures that hazardous components, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium (many of which can be found in computer monitors), are disposed of properly rather than leeching into landfills and polluting natural resources. As corporate agendas increasingly focus on sustainability, attention to these details is crucial.
For many companies, the security of sensitive data is an important concern when dealing with recycling electronic data storage components. Confidential information from obsolete or defective hard drives presents a serious risk if not properly destroyed and disposed of. Secure destruction offerings include degaussing (magnetic destruction of data) and material shredding - utilizing both of these processes eliminates the possibility of sensitive data leaving the custody chain.
Another benefit of e-cycling is the ability to strip de-manufactured components of valuable materials, such as gold, silver, copper, and platinum; recyclers are able to sell these metals to recover a portion of processing costs.
Finally, proper recycling of outdated electronics prevents the possible incursion of fines from state- and federal-level lawmakers. The disposal of certain items, such as CRT monitors and handheld devices (like cell phones), is regulated by the federal government. State regulatory requirements for e-waste can be stricter and also vary state by state, so be sure to research local regulations before solidifying plans for waste disposal.
Choosing the Right e-Cycler
When choosing an e-cycler, it's absolutely necessary that building owners and facility managers ask important questions:
- Is the recycler licensed to handle hazardous waste? What procedural and environmental certifications does it possess?
- What is the final disposition of those materials, and how is it tracked?
- How and where are assets recycled; is that process auditable?
There are a growing number of e-cyclers committed to proper, transparent management of e-waste; asking these questions can help ensure that you're choosing the right partner to help carry out your recycling plan.
For more information on e-cycling, local regulations, and state recycling programs, visit the EPA's e-cycling webpage. Consider organizing a drop-off day that involves tenants from your building and the surrounding area; it will not only ensure the simple, one-time collection of recyclables, but it will also project a positive community image.
Bill Rockett is vice president at M&K Recovery Group, an electronics recycler with locations in North Andover, MA, and Austin, TX.