E-Waste’s Dirty Secret: Is Your Business Contributing?

By September 29, 2014
electronics recycling

The E-Waste Crisis

As a responsible business owner, you know you should be recycling your old electronics. However, you might think your efforts only translate to less waste in our country’s landfills, but unfortunately our e-waste crisis is actually a global issue. In fact, over half of all U.S. electronic waste is shipped overseas to countries where environmental regulations are not as strict. What can’t be sold by workers – mostly young teenagers – is burned, releasing incredibly toxic pollutants like lead, arsenic and flame retardants into the air that damage the environment and local communities. Check out this startling video by Gizmogul.

And the problem isn’t going away. Electronic waste is actually the fastest growing waste stream in our society and is expected to continue growing 8% a year, indefinitely. How did we get into this crisis situation? Electronics waste has always been an issue, however, more recently the combination of explosive growth of technology, toxic design, little financial incentive to recycle, and lack of regulation have created the perfect storm.

Instead of contributing to this crisis, your business has other options. Donating your old electronics to a responsible e-waste collection company can help your used equipment find a new home with someone who needs it. Your functioning printers, phone systems and computers are just sitting in storage and taking up space, when they could be giving someone in your community a head start. Plus, recycling your broken electronics in a responsible way keeps them from ending up as a toxic embers across the globe.

Responsible E-Waste Collection

Not just that we recycle, but how we recycle matters, as Gizmodo explains. “It’s far more profitable for unscrupulous e-waste recycling companies to simply ship off their junk to distant African shores than to actually process the electronics themselves. And it’s not like first world consumers have any control over what happens to their electronics after they trade them in.”

Intrigued by the importance of responsible e-waste recycling, we recently caught up with Mitch Johnson from Living Green Technology (LGT) to get some insight into e-waste collection and how businesses can easily take part. The Seattle based company was formed a year ago when Mitch and his college friend Tyler Rivers brainstormed a better way to deal with e-waste.

Living Green Technology provides free e-waste shipping labels, on-site pickups and after hours drop-off, sustaining their free service by reselling functional electronics. Mitch elaborates, “Anything that can make us a buck so that we keep providing the service for the community. . . we see it more as a service to the community, than a business.”

Businesses in the Seattle region can sign up online or contact Living Green Tech directly to arrange the best collection method. By testing almost everything themselves, LGT is able to sell or donate nearly everything they receive. And if they can’t take something, they will work with customers and recommend another recycler or collection company that can. Non-salvageable electronics are taken to a local E-Cycle center, Washington’s free, responsible electronics recycling program to be processed in an environmentally friendly way. Just look at what E-Cycle has been able to accomplish in the last five years!

After the first point of contact, it’s a pretty quick process, but sometimes getting businesses to make that first step can be a challenge. Mitch encourages, “A lot of this hardware is just sitting in people’s storage units or basements, but it could be put to much better use. There’s plenty of people in the community that still don’t have a working computer, so just being able to put that hardware back out there to be used. . .We see it as a good way to give back to the community.”

Tips to Help your Business Recycle E-Waste Responsibly

Here are some great tips from Mitch and Electronics TakeBack to help your business responsibly recycle its e-waste. Obviously, the first step is to not throw your electronics in the trash!

    1.        Plan Before you Make the Switch

Moving to a new phone or computer system in the office can be a very exciting, hectic and frustrating time for your business. Mitch stresses having a recycling plan in place before you purchase your new system. “Once you get the new system there’s this huge surge to get that system working, but no one is figuring out what to do with the old system.” One year later that old system is still sitting in a closet and now that technology is one year older and less likely to help out another small business in your area.  Living Green Technology has worked with numerous small businesses who purchase used technologies from them at very reasonable prices. This allows more capital for building their business as opposed to a huge investment in phone systems and computers.

    2.        Find a Responsible E-Waste Service Provider

According to Mitch, lack of information is one of the largest hurdles facing electronics recycling today. “I feel that a lot of people just have no idea what they’re supposed to do with electronics.” Luckily this is becoming easier and easier. For cell phones, recycling services like E-Cycle, Capstone Wireless, and Call2Recycle are available across the country. Using directories like Greener Gadgets, e-Stewards and Earth911, you can enter your zip code to locate responsible providers in your area. If there are no responsible services in your area, check if the manufacturer of your electronic device has a Manufacturer Take Back Program. If you still can’t find anything, both Staples and Best Buy have electronic recycling programs at their store locations everywhere.

    4.        Check Services

If your electronics are still functional, donate your electronics for reuse whenever possible. Try the National Cristina Foundation or World Computer Exchange. Many recyclers, like LGT, will also refurbish and resell or donate your electronics. Not all providers have the ability to process all electronics, so make sure to verify that yours can accept what you have to dispose.

    5.        Erase your data

Before handing over your computer it’s important to completely erase your data. That doesn’t mean just deleting your files, it’s necessary to completely “wipe” your hard drive so that your files are not retrievable by anyone else. Some providers like LGT will do this for free, otherwise you can download free software to do it for you. Active@KillDisk and Softpedia DP Wiper are good options.

Part of being a good-green business is looking at every life-cycle stage for the products and services you provide as well as the ones you use. One of the most important areas where your business can make the most impact is disposal. This becomes even more relevant as new technologies like VoIP and cloud computing replace massive phone systems and computing equipment.

The crisis is about to get a lot worse.

Do your part and expend that extra minuscule amount of effort to recycle or dispose of your electronics responsibly.

The benefits could be as local as jump starting a small neighborhood business, or as global as improving air quality in Africa, India and China.