The Growing Environmental Risks of E-Waste

Over the past few decades new islands have been forming in the Pacific Ocean. But these aren’t the kind you would want to visit on a tropical vacation. Instead, they are massive floating islands of trash that are twice the size of Texas in girth and made mostly of plastics. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, these floating trash vortices threaten marine—and human—lives as they pollute waters and contribute to climate change.

Most of the plastics that are found in electronic waste, or e-waste, are toxic and when e-waste is landfilled rather than recycled, these toxic elements can make their way into our pristine aquifers and oceans, adding to the problem. What is worse is that e-waste is one of the fastest growing streams of waste around the world, increasing by up to 4% every year. With 275 million laptops manufactured annually and 94.36 million printers, copiers, and other peripherals joining them, the e-waste epidemic—and the ongoing damage it is causing to our environment—is growing.

The Impact of the E-Waste Epidemic

E-waste is made up of computers, peripherals, smartphones, and any number of appliances such as televisions, air conditioners, and others. These products all contain many environmental contaminants that can be released into the environment when the waste is processed or landfilled. Chemicals such as hydrogen chloride, polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAHs), and others can cause serious harm if encountered by human or animal life.

While e-waste in the United States makes up only 2% of our total trash burden, it generates 70% of the toxic waste we experience. That is why much e-waste is sent to developing countries by wealthy producers such as the U.S., China, and European nations—unless it is responsibly recycled!

Taking Care of E-Waste: What Businesses Need to Know About Recycling and Remarketing IT Assets

Changing the way your business handles e-waste is a critical element of a sustainable environment and a smart business strategy. Using a circular vision for e-waste processing—that is, recycling and remarketing e-waste such as IT assets—not only helps to reduce the amount of e-waste in circulation but can also provide up to $4.5 trillion in economy benefits by 2030.

Plus, businesses that adopt these practices can realize meaningful and measurable benefits, such as:

Maximizing Return on Investment

Business-based electronics such as computers and peripherals can represent a large capital outlay for most companies. Recycling or remarketing these assets can extend your return on investment (ROI) and also contribute to your sustainability profile. Retired electronic equipment can be securely processed to completely wipe data and then resold to reclaim value. Equipment that has no resale value while whole can be disassembled to access commodity grade materials to assist with asset value recovery. If neither of those options fit your equipment, it can also be recycled in an environmentally friendly way that can add value—and consumer confidence—to your outward-facing business through carbon-footprint reporting.

Reducing Your Risk of Costly Fines

With the spotlight on environmental issues, local, state, and federal governments have become more stringent in passing laws that govern the recycling of e-waste. In fact the Electronics TakeBack Coalition reports that 25 states have passed legislation that mandate e-waste recycling, and other states have legislation in the works.

Some states, such as California, New York, and Illinois impose heavy fines on those companies or individuals found disposing of electronics in landfills. Dollar General paid half a million in civil penalties and $375,000 in investigation costs when they were caught improperly disposing of waste products, including e-waste. Computer giant Apple paid a $450,000 fine from illegal operation of two electronics shredding facilities, and even some e-waste recyclers have been caught—and fined—for unlawful e-waste storage.

When you work with a trusted IT asset management partner, you can avoid the costly fines and reputational damage that can come from improper management of e-waste.

Reaping the Bottom-Line Benefits of Corporate Responsibility

Companies that are willing to participate in a circular system of e-waste handling will be seen as leaders in sustainability and corporate responsibility—features that translate into a healthier bottom line. That is because today’s consumers want to work with companies that are reducing harm to the environment and will consistently choose brands that have strong sustainability or social responsibility values.


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