For many companies with multiple locations, waste costs are simply another bill that gets paid along with electricity and water. Services are established when a site opens, and then dumpsters are filled and hauled away, with little thought given to what is in them. But if those dumpsters were filled with cash or precious metals, most companies would put more effort into investigating what was in their waste stream. What many companies don’t realize is that they actually are throwing away valuable commodities and not doing anything about it.
Globally, less than one-sixth of e-waste was diverted to proper recycling and reuse. According to the United Nations University, the UN’s think tank, global e-waste topped 41.8 metric tons of electrical and electronic products, and almost 60 percent was a mix of large and small equipment used in homes and businesses.
This e-waste waste is not junk — it contains valuable commodities like iron, copper, gold, silver, aluminum and other resources. It also contains toxins like leaded glass, batteries, mercury, cadmium and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Globally, the e-waste generated in 2014 contained an estimated value of $52 billion, and this number is expected to rise as manufacturers continue creating new electronics with shorter life cycles.
Over 16 years, the value of raw materials in e-waste alone will add up roughly to the same amount as the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. There’s great opportunity for society to create its own market-based “stimulus package” without increasing its debt, simply by increasing recycling rates, recovering valuable materials and striving for a zero waste model across the entire waste stream, not just e-waste.
There are two very good reasons for companies to pursue increased recycling rates. While we may believe that the issue is space — i.e., where are we going to bury all of our trash? — the implications for not recycling are much greater. Valuable commodities — cardboard, paper, plastics, metals, glass, etc. — can be recovered and put to a better use. And because recycling is more labor-intensive than sending waste straight to landfills, more jobs can be created for separating and recycling the materials. According to a 2011 report prepared by the Tellus Institute, More Jobs, Less Pollution, if the national recycling rate increased from 34 percent (in 2011) to 75 percent, we would create 1.5 million new jobs, while at the same time reducing 515 million MTCO2e.