Most companies dispose of their used IT assets in a safe and responsible manner. However, the sensitive recycling of used assets can be complicated. The reason? There are environmentally harmful substances in them that need to be handled carefully. When end-of-life technology is improperly disposed of, materials that contaminate soil and water supplies can leak and wreak havoc on the environment.
Below, I talk about some everyday devices that contain hazardous materials.
Cadmium, chromium, mercury and other carcinogens
The seemingly innocuous cornerstone of office productivity, the computer, is loaded with these hazardous materials:
- Chromium in the housing of a PC or device
- Beryllium in the mother board
- Cadmium in everything from chip resistors to cables and wires
- Mercury in switches and relays
In short, your computer contains dangerous and noxious chemicals. Because of the potential for ecological harm, it is imperative that computers are disposed of safely and responsibly by you or your IT asset disposition (ITAD) provider.
Hazardous materials on display
Odds are you haven’t seen a big cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor in a while. Most desktop setups now make use of the slimmer, lighter liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors. While their days in the modern enterprise are numbered, there are still some CRT monitors in use. This presents a major cause for concern when retiring the outdated displays. CRT monitors can contain up to eight pounds of lead. The prospect of a CRT monitor ending up in a landfill or developing nation is an environmental nightmare.
LCD screens may be slimmer in profile and weight, but they aren’t much better for the environment if mishandled. They also contain some lead, in addition to copper. The lamp used to illuminate the screen in LCD monitors is likely to contain mercury, while the coating is often made with cadmium. These components probably have flame-retardant protection that is commonly made with bromine.
What all of these materials have in common—besides their presence in computer displays—is that they can cause a variety of health problems, ranging from kidney damage to certain cancers. Therefore, they should be disposed of properly to avoid the potential for negative environmental and health impact.
Not-so-obvious sources of toxic substances
It’s clear that devices are a big problem if not disposed of properly. But what about the peripherals, connectors, and power sources that make these devices work? It turns out that cables, insulation, and batteries contain substances that are just as harmful as those found in computers and displays. From chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in cooling units to PVC for cable insulation to lithium and nickel in batteries, these little-thought-of peripherals are just as harmful to the environment when disposed of improperly.
It’s imperative to dispose of your used IT assets safely and responsibly. If you don’t, the dangerous materials contained in e-waste can seep into soil, poison groundwater and aquifers, be ingested by animal life, or in some extreme cases adversely affect local populations. Fortunately, there are some steps to ensure that your company doesn’t contribute to the growing global e-waste problem:
- Educate yourself and your staff on hazardous materials in IT assets
- Create internal policies for ITAD and make sure everyone at your company understands them
- Select a qualified ITAD partner to help with safe and responsible disposition of technology
- Audit your ITAD provider, as well as its downstream partners, to ensure that strategies and processes are in line with industry best practices
Does your company have a BYOD policy? Does it encourage employees to avoid discarding used devices that may end up in landfills? Take the ITAD quiz to see how well your company is doing with their ITAD strategy. Please share your results in the comments below.