Should my Company be E-Cycling? – The Why and How for the Decision

By Chad Miller

According to the EPA, only 25 percent of electronics were collected for recycling in 2009. Since then, the volume of consumer electronics recycled has increased by more than 50 percent every year, but the amount of electronics manufactured and consumed has also increased each year. These statistics from Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® demonstrate that while more households and companies are recycling their phones, televisions and computers, we are fighting an uphill battle.

Companies are already leading the charge to commit to electronics recycling, or e-cycling. A vast majority, 74.1 percent, of devices recycled in America came from businesses and commercial entities in 2010, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Furthermore, 62 percent of electronics recycled in 2010 came from PC and IT-related equipment. Unlike with household consumers, companies can, and do, e-cycle at a large scale with a greater impact on the environment.

What Exactly is E- Cycling?

When you recycle a plastic bottle, you are breaking that bottle down into raw material that can be used to create something new. E-cycling is a little different.

An electronic device that is at its “end of life” can be broken down very carefully for parts and raw materials, like a plastic bottle is being recycled, or it can be repaired, refurbished and resold. Both of these options are considered “e-cycling.” E-cycling is a more complex process than plastic and paper recycling, but the rewards are also greater.

Most electronics collected can be broken down into specification grade commodities such as steel, aluminum, copper, lead and others. Those materials are more valuable than plastic, glass and paper and can be sold back to US manufacturers to create new items. Conversely, approximately 28 percent of all e-cycled devices are in good enough condition that special e-cycling facilities will repair and refurbish them for resale at a discounted price.

Why Should my Company E-Cycle?

Electronics – even “waste” electronics – are valuable resources. In addition to the environmental benefits of safely recycling electronics in a certified facility, there are other benefits to e-cycling:

  • Cost saving: Companies that choose to recycle their electronic devices reduce the amount they’re spending to have it processed within the municipal system
  • Data security: Certified e-cycling facilities are required to carefully wipe the personal data from old electronics before reselling them or dismantling them for parts and raw materials
  • New source of revenue: There are dozens of e-cycling facilities throughout the United States, and some of them will pay you for you your gently-used electronic waste
  • Second-hand revenue: They are generating revenue for potential customers within the US economy. The e-cycling industry contributed roughly $5 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy in 2010 and employs more than 30,000 Americans full-time.
How Can my Company Start E-Cycling?

First, assess the condition of the electronics you plan to e-cycle. Can they be sold to a refurbishing facility? Can they be sold for parts? Are they in such poor condition that you’ll need to send them to a certified materials recovery facility?

Based on your assessment of the devices your company has to e-cycle, locate a certified e-cycling program or facility that accommodates your needs:

  • Volume: Some e-cyclers have maximum or minimum volume requirements to process electronics
  • Resale versus scrap material: Depending on the condition of your electronics, you might be able to sell them to a refurbish-and-resale e-cycler or you might have to send them to be carefully dismantled for parts and raw material
  • Certification: Electronics contain materials that can be harmful when the devices are disassembled. Certified e-cycling facilities follow safety protocol that protects employees working in those facilities, the surrounding community and the environment. More about the importance of certifications below

Improper disposal of electronics can be potentially dangerous. The toxins released from demolished electronics have been linked to health problems among communities in places like the developing world where e-cycling facilities are not well regulated or improper storage and handling are evident. In response to this potential threat, the EPA worked with e-cyclers to establish the R2/RIOS certification standards that protect workers, the environment and data security. There are a few other similar certification standards, including the most famous – e-Stewards certification from the Basel Action Network.

E-cycling is a priority at my company. We hope that as we herald in the New Year, you will make e-cycling a priority at your company as well.

To learn more about e-cycling, visit http://www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/materials/ecycling/.

Resources:

http://www.ce.org/CorporateSite/media/Government-Media/Green/ELI.pdf

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/index.htm

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/basic.htm

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/smm/electronics/index.htm

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/manage.htm

http://173.203.200.22/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/whyworkwith11.pdf

http://www.isri.org/

http://www.isri.org/ISRI/_Government_Relations/Electronics_Recycling/ISRI/_Government_Relations/Electronics_Recycling.aspx?hkey=5c8e7627-8f5c-423a-a1fa-d10228866286

About the Author

Chad Miller is the Director of Product Recovery for Waste Management.