Comcast may be the latest company to illegally dump its e-waste — resulting in a $25.95 million settlement with the state of California — but its not alone in its “careless and unlawful” e-waste disposal practices, which put people and the environment at risk.
Less than one-sixth of last year’s e-waste is thought to have been diverted to proper recycling and reuse, according to the United Nations University, the UN’s think tank, which says global e-waste topped 41.8 million metric tons of electrical and electronic products in 2014.
“Businesses need to recognize that electronics contain hazardous materials that must be managed legally and responsibly, and also be aware of the potential for future financial liability and brand risk if such material is disposed in a landfill or otherwise managed improperly” says John Lingelbach, executive director of SERI, the nonprofit organization that created the R2 (Responsible Recycling) standard for electronics recyclers.
“Businesses must do their due diligence regarding the management of their used electronics. Working with brokers and recyclers certified to the R2 Standard by an independent Certification Body reduces risk and provides greater assurance that used electronics will be managed legally, and in a way that protects the environment, worker and public health, and confidential data.”
E-Waste Handling Under Scrutiny
E-waste is a growing issue for businesses — the UNU expects the volume of e-waste to rise by 21 percent to 50 million metric tons in 2018 — and requires safe and legal management to comply with regulations and avoid fees or even jail time.
“The federal government as well as many state governments have recently taken a closer look at e-waste management and they are setting a precedent of enforcement that is much more strict than ever before,” says Arman Sadeghi CEO of All Green Electronics Recycling. “Companies are going to have to reconsider their electronics recycling practices in every state to ensure they are fully complaint with state and federal laws. Compounding this is the fact that commodity values have dropped dramatically in the last year so the cost of e-waste recycling has increased significantly. This has resulted in federal and state government entities, including the EPA, increasing their scrutiny of corporate e-waste handling policies.”
In a Dec. 19 blog Sadeghi highlights five things companies can do to keep corporate e-waste programs complaint:
- Centralize e-waste management instead of allowing individual branches to make decisions.
- Protect all data containing devices including copy machines. Many devices such as copiers and printers have hard drives that store data so they must be properly recycled.
- Know all federal and state regulations. Each state has a different set of e-waste recycling laws so make sure you know them.
- Work with a certified e-waste recycling vendor. Sadeghi says E-Stewards certification is the highest level of certification in the industry.
- Find a single vendor to conduct all of your e-waste recycling and data destruction. This will significantly simplify the process.
How Dell Recycles E-Waste
Deborah Sanders, director of global takeback at Dell, says the company has done this by making recycling easy and convenient for customers through partnering with suppliers in 78 countries and territories to provide free pickup or mail-back recycling.
For example, in the US, the Dell Reconnect program, in partnership with Goodwill, provides free consumer recycling of any brand of computer equipment. Donors drop-off used electronics and Goodwill diverts all the e-waste from landfills.
For business customers, Dell’s Asset Resale and Recycling Services allows companies to transport, resell and/or recycle any brand of owned or leased equipment, in an environmentally safe way, while protecting customer’s data.
“Ensuring that recycling can happen begins with designing products that are easy to disassemble and through our circular economy efforts where we are always finding new ways to incorporate old products back into our supply chain, which makes good business sense and reduces our environmental impact,” Sanders says. “From a business perspective, we have incorporated recycling into all aspects of our company, allowing us to reduce our need for virgin materials and incorporate aspects from old electronics in our new products.”
To implement similar practices, other companies should start thinking in terms of a circular — not linear — economy, Sanders says.
“It starts with awareness, companies need to encourage everyone to think about e-waste and the end life of their products,” Sanders says. “By implementing programs that make recycling technology easy for customers, it will make it that much more likely that customers will properly dispose of their electronics.”