Reflecting on the past decade, it’s challenging to think of an area of life where technology has not been integrated. We’ve observed, year after year, as tech has proliferated and become increasingly ingrained into almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Which begs the question: What happens to our technology and machines after they become obsolete and we move on to the next “big” thing?
Before we answer that question, however, let’s better understand the technology landscape and how it impacts each of us. Consumers and companies alike use it for a multitude of reasons, including to streamline and automate processes, protect financial data, store information, communicate with one another, and more. With the acceleration of technology—near constant phone updates, new laptop models, and state-of-the-art software—we are, unfortunately, left with the pressure to keep up with the rapid pace of this industry by buying, using, and disposing of massive amounts of electronics all too frequently. Moreover, with these ever-increasing upgrades, new models, and faster devices comes the downside of more e-waste, which is most often not disposed of correctly. In 2016, the yearly accumulation of e-waste reached a whopping 49.3 million tons. However, of that amount, less than 20 percent was collected and recycled. Furthermore, according to the EPA, electronic waste isn’t just a problem globally, but also happens to be the fastest-growing category of solid waste in the United States.
While the process of discarding electronics may not seem that involved, in reality, there is more than meets the eye around this problem. In this blog post, we are going to explain why so much of our unwanted electronic waste ends up in the trash, the negative impacts of disposing of them in this way, and how your business can better manage and dispose of its e-waste while making an impact on the planet. Continue reading to learn more!
The Importance of Proper Waste Disposal
The EPA estimates that the United States produces more electronic waste than any other country, generating 9.4 million tons annually. And, this number is expected to rise in the years to come. Sadly, many devices are thrown away at the end of their useful life (the average useful life varies by device, however the average phone is replaced every 18 months), or in favor of the newest upgrade or model. Despite these bad habits, did you know that when the consumer is finished using their old devices they are still potentially useful or valuable? This is because many devices contain prized raw materials, including gold, palladium, and other metals that could be used in other devices. An estimated $21 billion of reclaimable gold and silver are currently sitting in landfills across the world, stuck in electronics.
In addition to housing valuable materials, electronics also have a dark side and contain various types of dangerous chemicals, including: lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants. When disposed of in landfill, these hazardous materials eventually leach into the environment, polluting air, soil and water,—and, impacting the livelihood of countless waste and recovery specialists and people living near landfills throughout the world. The Blacksmith Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on solving global pollution problems, estimates that e-waste threatens the health of 100 million people worldwide… A number that is expected to continue rising.
It’s essential to keep in mind, even once your devices (laptops, cell phones, TV screens, monitors, music players, even VCR’s) are no longer useful to you, they are still potentially valuable and can be useful in more circumstances than you might expect. For example, donated or refurbished machines can help less-fortunate people and organizations in your community while recycling devices can prevent e-waste and reduce the associated environmental impact in surrounding areas by keeping it out of landfills. On a more quantitative level, recycling electronics also results in fewer raw materials needing to be extracted from nature to create new devices—helping ensure you’re contributing to more sustainable processes that support the circular economy. All in all, consciously reducing electronic waste helps save energy, reduce pollution, and decrease the number of raw materials needed to make new devices—A win-win-win, if we do say so ourselves.
Electronic Recycling Resources for Businesses
While we know there’s a dark side to e-waste, we would be remiss not to mention the bright side: The fact that many of us, as individuals and as businesses, have easily-accessible opportunities to actively reduce and recycle electronic waste. And, in contributing to processes that are healthier for the environment we can save valuable resources, reduce waste costs, and make a positive impact on, both your community and a global level. Below are a few, simple ways businesses can start reducing their electronic waste right away:
1. Leverage the Cloud
Using “the cloud” involves storing and managing data on a network of servers maintained on the internet by a third party. Cloud computing can help businesses proactively reduce e-waste by lessening the demand on hard drives, so devices will last longer—reducing the need to purchase, repair, or replace hardware as often. Additionally, cloud computing results in everything being hosted on your provider’s servers, meaning businesses can do away with the costs and maintenance of running their own data center. According to eukhost, cloud computing leads to cost savings for businesses because, “You won’t need to pay for space, power, physical security, insurance, and air-conditioning” (resources usually needed when hosting massive servers or data in-house), nor will you need to cover the costs of ongoing maintenance.” Moreover, 94 percent of businesses saw an improvement in security after switching to cloud-based services, as carefully monitoring security is one of a cloud host’s main responsibilities. For companies who may be hesitant about using the cloud, there is a good chance you already use cloud computing services, such as Google Drive, Gmail, or Instagram, without even knowing it.
2. Use a third-party electronics recycler
Although the United States does not have a federal law that requires businesses to recycle, many state and local governments have introduced their own waste and recycling mandates and regulations that commercial corporations must follow. As a business owner or manager, it's important to understand exactly what regulations exist in your region so you can meet these expectations. Luckily, if your business generates large amounts of e-waste, a third-party hauler can likely recycle the electronics for you. Companies like RoadRunner help businesses process their electronic waste in the most environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way possible.
3. Promote e-cycling within company culture
Some people assume they don’t have enough time or resources to recycle their electronic waste. Or, they simply lack the understanding of what products can actually be recycled. Through building excitement and educational resources around recycling e-waste, businesses may be surprised to learn that it helps promote employee buy-in and maximize recycling participation. Make the process more enjoyable by generating awareness with games. For example, at the bottom of your internal newsletter or communications, consider including ongoing trivia questions such as:
Which country produces the most electronic waste?
B. The United States
Ask your employees to respond with their answer by the end of the week, and whichever team racks up the most points over a month, wins the game! Focusing on education, incentivizing employee participation, and communicating the benefits of recycling is key for gaining employee participation.
4. Destroy data devices
Many managers avoid e-waste recycling because of the concern that recycling electronics may expose sensitive data. Luckily, there are ways to protect your information before safely disposing of electronic waste, including hiring a company or consultant with this expertise to destroy your data on your devices before recycling them. Check out this list of free data destruction companies!
5. Trade-in to upgrade
Upgrades are essential to keeping your business ahead of the curve. Consider requiring your team to hand in their older, empty and data-free devices the next time you're distributing new gadgets. Believe it or not, employees will probably be happy to do so. Of 10,000 people surveyed throughout the world, 45 percent believe that manufacturers should handle the recycling of electronics. The same research also found that consumers are particularly interested in trade-in programs, with three-quarters of them hoping to participate in such a program by 2022. Chances are, the manufacturer of the devices will offer an e-waste recycling program if you inquire about it. For example, Best Buy’s “buy-back-program” will purchase old electronics for a reward or discount. As of 2019, Best Buy has collected an impressive 2 billion pounds of e-waste and counting. A reminder that trading in your gadgets helps save raw materials, make the process of building electronics cheaper, and is more energy-efficient.
6. Donate to charity
For the gently-used, but no longer wanted devices, give them a second life at local schools, non-profits, underserved populations, or community groups. They can help provide access to a world of knowledge and social connection that will make a huge impact, both on the planet and to the people empowered. Many donation sites exist that can put your devices to good use. As of 2004, Dell and Goodwill have partnered together to collect more than 96 million pounds of electronics and have recently expanded the program to over 1,900 Goodwill locations.
7. Check-in locally
Currently, at least 25 states have established a statewide electronic waste program. California was the first state to adopt an electronic waste recycling program called the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, which established a funding system for collecting and recycling certain types of electronic waste. Following California’s lead, 24 states have adopted e-waste recycling laws in recent years, including Minnesota, Oregon, Connecticut, and North Carolina. If you live in one of the 22 states without e-cycling laws, your business can and should still recycle electronic waste. Many states and retail stores will offer collections for unwanted electronic devices, including TV's, computers, batteries, and more. If you are interested, you can find an electronic recycling center near you by following this link.
As the lifespan of electronic waste is becoming shorter and shorter, businesses have the responsibility to educate their employees and prioritize reducing and recycling their electronic waste. Doing so not only lessens water, air, and soil pollution for a safer environment, but also protects natural resources, reduces the space required for landfills, and helps your business save money and significantly reduce its carbon footprint. We’d love to know how your business handles its e-waste and recycling, as well as any tips you have for other organizations looking to do so. Drop us a comment below, or tag us in your photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn! Thank you for reading with us and don’t hesitate to enquire about how we can help you recycle here.