Each year, your business might toss several pounds of gold in the trash. As of late August, an ounce of gold was valued at $1,743. Would you try to get that gold back out of the trash bins now? We throw out some of the world’s most valuable materials at record numbers because they’re part of what makes electronic devices work.
We’re swimming in a sea of charging cables, battery indicators, touch screens, and headphones. When that technology gets outdated or the device breaks, we throw them out with the trash. Electronic or e-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. It’s a major threat to our planet and human health and contributes to climate change.
We break down what e-waste is, three reasons we have to do a better job dealing with it, and some solutions for your business.
CLICK HERE to see how RoadRunner can help your business deal with e-waste!
What is e-waste?
E-waste used to be a small category of things mostly centered around computers. Now, it can include just about anything:
• Tablets and e-readers
• Solar panels
While not a complete list, this gives you an idea of how varied and widespread e-waste can be with business equipment.
3 reasons we have to do a better job with e-waste
1. Health hazards for people
The World Health Organization warned that “adverse child health impacts” can occur from the disposal and processing of e-waste. Those impacts include lung problems, damage to a child’s DNA, and increased cancer risk. In developing countries, where much of the world send e-waste, children sift through piles to find valuable copper and gold. Their small hands are more dexterous. Many of these countries lack employee safety regulations and child labor laws.
On top of that, many of these electronic devices require manual disassembly. The process exposes people to airborne lead, mercury, and combustible dust. Those substances can cause extensive health problems, especially for exposure over a prolonged length of time. Open-air burning and acid baths, used to recover some raw materials, further complicating health issues.
Doing a better job with your office e-waste means it doesn’t have the chance to impact someone’s health.
2. Environmental problems & loss of recyclable materials
When e-waste isn’t recycled, it goes to the landfill. That’s currently what happens to most devices. According to the UN, only 17.4% of the 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste generated in 2019 was recycled. The recoverable materials (cobalt, palladium, copper, cadmium, and lithium) represent $47 billion in lost value. There is 100 times more gold in one metric ton of e-waste than in a metric ton of gold ore. And all of this ends up sitting in a landfill.
Environmental problems arise with some of these substances. Electronics languishing in the landfill leach things like mercury, lead, arsenic, and PFAS into the ground. That impacts drinking water supplies and nearby farmland. The compounds can be absorbed by plants that animal populations rely on for food.
Taking the opportunity to recycle e-waste from your business means diversion from the landfill. It can’t harm the environment and contributes to a circular economy.
3. Planned obsolescence, limited repair options
Why do businesses throw out things that still work, like smartphones, computers, and tablets? Devices must be replaced at the same pace as new technology is emerging. After a few years, software options for smartphones become limited, and companies won’t support them, making them virtually unusable. This ever-shorter product lifespan is a major contributor to the growing mountain of e-waste.
Additionally, there’s been a lack of repair options for many IT departments. Only this year, a number of companies announced they were releasing instructions for DIY repairs. Consumers are pushing back on manufacturers to make things like this more readily available.
New repair options mean your business can use electronics longer than before. That cuts down on e-waste, reduces the weight of pickups for your business, and ultimately saves you money on waste bills.
Some ways your business can do better with e-waste
Finding a better way to deal with e-waste can reduce greenhouse gas pollution, save energy, and reduce the need to mine new resources from the environment. It can save lives and protect the planet. Recycling electronics leads to job creation for refurbishers and recycling companies, impacting the tax base for cities and states. It can also save money when it comes to hauling waste for your business and tipping it at the landfill. Many haulers and landfills tie the amount you pay to the weight of the load.
Recycling also contributes to a circular economy. Here’s the EPA estimate for material recovery from 1 million recycled cell phones:
• 35,000 pounds of copper
• 772 pounds of silver
• 75 pounds of gold
• 33 pounds of palladium
That material is reusable to create new electronic devices.
Education must be critical in any plan to do a better job with e-waste. Businesses need to understand why they shouldn’t just throw things in the trash bin.
Being responsible with electronics makes good business sense. It contributes to sustainability goals and a better ESG score. Recovery and recycling help the future bottom line and protect supply chains.
RoadRunner commits to helping companies along every step of their e-waste journey. We’re the waste stream experts. Let our national footprint find the best, custom-made solution that fits your e-waste needs.
CLICK HERE to see how RoadRunner can work for your business!