The Digital Dump! What Recycling E-Waste is Important?
The pace of change in technology today is truly unrelenting. Electronics are outdated in the blink of an eye, consigned to trash or e-trash as we call it. Today’s consumer is obsessed with new technology. There are more than 300 million computers and a billion cell phones produced every year! With old electronics becoming redundant, inefficient and obsolete, we are quickly replacing them with new ones. But what happens to old electronics or e-Waste? Electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of global waste and will continue to be dumped in those developing countries least equipped to deal with it properly.
What is E-Waste?
Anything that has a wire, a plug, a battery or runs on electricity, that you probably aren’t going to use ever again comprises electronic waste.
E-waste or electronic waste refers to all electronic devices, surplus, damaged or obsolete, which have been discarded by their original owners. According to a United Nations estimate, the world produces up to 50 million tons of ewaste per year. This global mountain of waste is expected to continue growing 8% per year, indefinitely! (BCC Research). With increased access to information technology, there are also challenges in managing electronic products at their end-of-use.
Quick Facts on e-Waste
- US dumps between 3-4 million tons of ewaste of which less than 20% is recycled
- E-waste constitutes only 2% of the landfill waste, yet it contributes to 70% of the toxic elements in it.
- 70-80% of the e-waste collected for recycling is actually dumped into third world countries.
- The Ponemon Institute estimates that 70% of data breaches come from offline computers, usually after the equipment owner has disposed them of.
Why Recycle e-Waste?
E-waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity of some of the substances if processed improperly. The toxicity is as a result of lead, mercury, cadmium and a number of other substances present in electronics. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight. Up to 38 separate chemical elements are incorporated into e-waste items. The unsustainability of discarded electronics and computer technology is another reason for the need to recycle. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals that can be recovered for future uses or “Above the Ground Mining” as they call it, leading to resource recovery and huge energy savings as a result. In addition, it is now illegal in most states to dump e-waste into landfills, leaving recycling as the only option.
Is your e-Waste really being “recycled”?
An estimated 70-80% of the e-waste that’s given to electronic recyclers (to be recycled) is actually exported to countries like India, China, Ghana etc. Once there, primitive technologies such as open air burning and riverside acid baths are used to extract a few materials, exposing workers (mostly underage children) to toxic fumes and hazardous elements.
Do you know who your “recycler” is?
Here are a few general questions to help you choose the right recycler for your e-waste and to determine whether they are operating under strict environmental controls and high worker safety protections.
- Is the recycler certified and do they follow waste industry guidelines on recycling? EPA recognizes e-Stewards and R2 certifications and most states have made it mandatory for government organizations to only use certified recyclers.
- Does the recycler hold accountability for the e-waste collected?(or it may land up in India or China)
- Does the recycler have written procedures for treating hazardous components in ewaste?
Certified Recyclers adhere to responsible and ethical recycling of e-waste.
The e-Stewards® Certified Recyclers
Developed by the Basel Action Network (BAN) together with industry leaders, the e-Stewards Certification is the gold standard in electronics recycling, giving consumers, companies and governments an easy way of finding responsible recyclers and refurbishers. Accredited, independent and specially trained e-Stewards certification bodies, via rigorous, on-site audits that are performed at least once a year, certify e-Stewards Recyclers.
Data Security and E-Waste
Data Breaches in Digital Dump
Recycling of e-Waste can be compromising, as it involves handling sensitive data on those computers. A pint-size data breach can cause an organization huge financial and reputation losses. Hard drives and various other media storage devices need to be properly destroyed to avoid any data theft. Proper destruction and disposal of data is only possible through ethical recycling practices and following NAID standards while handling such devices.
A few recent e-Waste Data Breach cases:
- A Recent EPA Enforcement Case resulted in $195K fi ne for AT&T for improper disposal of computers
- A hard drive purchased from eBay was discovered to have US Missile Data on it!
- Reporters found Northrop Grumman Data on a hard drive bought in Ghana market!
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee spent more than $7 Million to respond to an obsolete computer theft issue
In conclusion, let’s take a pledge to never trash or store technology. Instead let’s reuse, refurbish or recycle it! If we as individuals and companies practice our due diligence in properly recycling e-waste, the future and our environment will be secure. In addition, it is extremely important to know “who” handles our e-waste. Use certified e-cyclers who can ensure and guarantee 100% safe and ethical recycling, without compromising your reputation and environmental sustainability.