The Problem with E-Waste

ewaste, e-waste, electronic wasteElectronic waste or e-waste is a rapidly growing problem. The UN partnered STEP (solving the e-waste problem) group estimates that e-waste will grow to 65.4 million metric tons by 2017. U.S. major shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, offering an abundance of cheap electronics, adds to the issue. As new, inexpensive electronics are purchased, often times they replace the older items in the household. The households and businesses are left to figure out what to do with old computers, broken televisions, and obsolete electronics. These items are often stored and forgotten about or simply thrown in the trash. Both of these scenarios are less than ideal.

IT assets and electronic assets decrease in value rapidly. The longer they sit in a storage room, closet, or corner, the less valuable they are. Once the items reach obsolete status, the only option left is to recycle it. The most efficient way to prevent IT equipment and electronic equipment from being sent to landfills is reuse. The whole item can be given another useful life in the secondary markets if it’s still in working condition and not antiquated. It is in your company’s and your personal best financial interest to work with an IT recycler to quickly process your IT assets in order to maximize the return on IT equipment investment. So the next time you upgrade your company’s PCs, laptops, servers, routers, switches, or cell phones, have an IT recycler that offers remarketing in place. The next time you want to replace your old TV or upgrade to the newest gaming system, plan what to do with the item that’s being replaced.

The other often used method of disposal of old or unneeded IT equipment is to simply throw it in the trash. Equipment fails for many reasons. We drop cell phones, spill things on our laptops, knock over and crack monitors, and sometimes seemingly unexplainably, equipment just quits working. The friendly neighborhood waste department may not have an e-waste policy and even if they do, it might not be widely known or followed.  Equipment such as laptops contains chemicals such as beryllium, lead, chromium, and mercury compounds. These chemicals are toxic or carcinogenic to humans. They are safely contained in the metal and plastic laptop cases. However, when a laptop is discarded in traditional garbage and landfills, these chemicals can leach into the surrounding topsoil. The topsoil can potentially contaminate the ground water which can in turn contaminate the surrounding vegetation which can harm the area fauna and humans.

Another ugly truth of the e-waste industry is that much of the e-waste produced in developed countries gets shipped off to be dumped in developing countries. In these developing countries, the e-waste is sifted through by individuals, often children, looking for any saleable materials. These people face the same contamination issues from the chemicals. However, due to the less developed environment, they have fewer options to circumvent the issue and fewer resources to correct the damage.

In order to combat this reprehensible behavior, the IT recycling industry has several organizations that fight to ensure all e-waste is handled in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Industry standards set by Responsible Recycling or R2 help to guide IT recycling companies to the best routes and methods of handling the e-waste as well as require transparency certified companies’ recycling processes.

IT assets and electronics are here to stay. We depend on our computers, cell phones, televisions, networks, etc. to provide us with modern lifestyles. That also means that e-waste is here to stay as well. It’s up to each and every company and individual to do what we can to minimize the negative impact of our modern conveniences. Rocycle can help with all your IT asset and electronic recycling needs.