The government, corporations, and citizens in the United States have a higher awareness than ever before for the necessity to properly recycle electronic waste. Although there have been positive results from educating and regulating the electronic waste producers, collectors, and recyclers a great threat still remains.
In a recent New York Times article by Ian Urbina “Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles” the increased concern that electronic waste is being improperly handled is well documented. The article exposes a practice by electronics recyclers that promote their brand by deceiving clients with false claims of legal and ethical recycling procedures. In reality, these recyclers separate out valuable material and then stockpile, carelessly discard, or illegally export the remaining toxic waste
Cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors and televisions are currently the largest threat to our environment from electronic waste. CRT products have a high cost of collecting, processing, separation, and of down-stream disposal of the toxic lead glass. Because of the high costs associated with properly dismantling and recycling electronic waste, the U.S. government has developed programs and incentives for recycling companies to collect and process the material. Many states also require manufacturers to provide “take-back” programs, which are typically contracted out to recycling companies.
Some recycling companies have taken advantage of these incentives and OEM contracts and are now stuck with product they cannot afford to process and in turn are abandoning warehouses full of electronic waste, land-filling the material, or exporting it illegally and then shutting down the business to restart under a new brand.
Ian Urbina claims that the federal government alone is disposing of 10,000 computers a week, and even many of their own disposal practices have been taken advantage of by parties who undertake fraudulent or illegal actions handling the waste. The burden of solving this problem is on the generators of the waste, all of us, to take the time to seriously investigate how our electronic waste is being handled.
There are some practices leading IT business decision makers can utilize in order to avoid contributing to criminally reckless recycling vendors. Every IT department should have a written disposal policy that includes data security, environmental and social policy, a list of approved and qualified vendors, and methods for tracking the disposal of regulated electronic waste.
A qualified disposal vendor should be one that can provide verifiable data and tracking of the receiving, processing, and downstream recycling of material. Vendor selection should be made not only according to third party certifications (R2, ISO 14001, BAN etc.) but from evaluation of a vendor’s software reporting tools and transparent access to the recycling vendors’ processes, procedures, and physical facilities. Demand the same level of sophistication from an IT asset disposal vendor that you would from any other technology partner.
The past choice that some have made to utilize fly by night recycling outfits or select vendors without performing due diligence is one that will negatively affect our environment for years to come. The abandoned stockpiles of CRT monitors will be monuments to our collective poor oversight.
Today is a day to reflect on our past decisions and to pledge that we will do everything we can to ensure our electronic waste is processed in an ethical, secure, and environmentally sound manner.