When all goes right, electronic waste doesn’t pose a significant threat to the environment. Used mobile phones, servers, printers and more are responsibly recycled for parts or resold for further use. Hazardous materials are disposed of carefully, sensibly.
Unfortunately, this appears to be more the exception than the rule – at least among consumers.
According to a September 2016 article by The Atlantic, $206 billion was spent on consumer electronics in the U.S. in 2012, and only 29 percent of the e-waste generated was recycled. The rest was simply trashed, most of it going directly into landfills, where the potential for environmental damage is substantial.
Many consumers can be guilty of ignorance, carelessness or negligence. Among some processors and recyclers, dumping e-waste improperly is outright deception, such as this alleged criminal case now moving through a federal court.
There’s money to be made in reselling the raw materials from IT assets, which is why unscrupulous recyclers have been known to capture them and then send e-waste overseas to dump in developing countries. There, government oversight is lax, but human health, as well as the environment, are impacted.
As an enterprise that generates e-waste, and virtually all enterprises do, you have an obligation to know that your used assets are being handled in a legal and ecologically friendly manner. Here are steps you can take.
1. Find an IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) provider you can trust.
Do as much research as you can on the company you hire. Ask for references. Check out their certifications and credentials. View their search results, too. Have they been cited with violations or fines from the EPA or other environmental agency? Do they get good reviews? Trustworthiness and reliability go a long way.
2. Insist on transparency.
Your provider may seem trustworthy, but may contract services out to third parties for recycling and/or the handling of hazardous materials. You can’t always be certain about how the subcontractors work unless you request documentation of how your e-waste gets recycled, disposed of or resold. Also, are the subcontractors certified for the work they are doing? If you can’t get these documents, or you get vague answers, consider it a red flag.
3. Conduct “spot” audits to ensure correctness.
Showing up unannounced, to your provider’s offices to view the process documentation may sound like you’re playing hardball. But it is appropriate, especially if you have suspicions. Many providers eagerly invite customers out to show them their processes first-hand. If a provider won’t let you into the building, it’s a red flag.
4. Do your part with buy-back programs or other ways to return old devices.
Company buy-back programs for employee devices, as well as campaigns to donate old phones and other technology to charitable causes, can help protect against devices being improperly discarded. But they also can help a company do its part to make sure used devices are properly recycled.
E-waste is not declining, so environmental concerns over its disposal won’t be going away anytime soon. The Atlantic reported an expected 20 percent increase – from 41 million tons dumped or discarded worldwide in 2015 to an expected 50 million in 2017, mostly sent to developing countries.
How well is your company doing with asset disposition and recycling. Take this ITAD quiz to find out. Let us know your results in a comment.