As technology has evolved, companies have adopted new electronic equipment to streamline and automate processes. When these products reach the end of their life cycle, it is the company’s responsibility to deal with e-waste in an ethical and environmentally responsible way.
1.4 million tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) are sent to landfill every year in the UK, from mobile phones to computers and printers, leaking harmful toxins into the earth. Corporations have huge potential to impact the growing e-waste crisis. From production to disposal, they have an accountability to implement proper disposal strategies to avoid dumping electronic goods in developing nations and ending up in landfill.
Repair or refurbish
Many large-scale technology manufacturers have implemented takeback schemes and recycling programmes to reduce the impact their technology has on the environment. Yet recycling cannot be treated as a panacea for the current e-waste crisis. In fact, it should be the last resort.
The root of the problem lies at the very start of the device’s life cycle. The design of many gadgets makes it very difficult to repair devices easily. Certain manufacturers are pre-programming their products to only operate with official parts installed by them, resulting in those who are not authorised to repair devices being pushed out of the marketplace. With climate change now at the forefront of the political and social agenda, the ‘Right to Repair’ movement is gaining traction. The movement advocates for the right of people to repair their devices instead of being required to purchase a new one. With that in mind, can your company repair your existing electronic equipment?
Buying refurbished products is another alternative to recycling. Refurbished products can be at least 10 to 20 per cent cheaper than new products and it is not uncommon to see some products at 30 to 50 per cent lower. You will also benefit from the fact that your IT department and staff will have existing knowledge of the software, configuration and maintenance of the devices. Re-using components of tech devices is key to building a circular economy, whereby we close the loop and stop resources going to waste. Recently the EU introduced a new ‘Green Deal’ to eliminate waste and focus on the electronics industry as a key contributor.
If products are beyond economic repair (BER), there are still valuable components within devices which can be repurposed for building or repairing other devices. Mobile phones, for example, contain precious metals such as platinum, gold and silver. Phone batteries contain nickel which can be made into stainless steel for saucepans and the plastics can be melted down and made into sheeting or traffic cones. When simply thrown away, these resources are lost, requiring ongoing mining and drilling for new precious metals – of which the Earth only has a finite amount. According to a new study by the Royal Society of Chemistry, some of these precious metals are expected to run out in the next 100 years if more sustainable alternatives are not found.
Regulations to consider
The UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations were brought in to stop electronics ending up in landfill. Under this initiative, manufacturers and distributors are required to put systems in place for the collection, treatment and recovery of WEEE. However it is up to businesses to make sure this happens.
There are evidently many benefits to reusing and recycling electronic devices, not just for environmental reasons but for data protection and compensation. Most electronics store data on their hard drives, including financial information, client contact details, and employee information. Companies often have reservations about recycling their devices or sending them to be refurbished due to the sensitivity of the information stored on them. If done correctly through a certified recycling facility, confidential data can be wiped to ensure there is no risk of the information being shared.
What are the benefits?
To have a truly sustainable impact on the growing e-waste problem, companies need to consider repairing, reusing and recycling their electronics. Technology has become an essential part of business across many different sectors. It is now a case of finding sustainable solutions to handling e-waste. Corporations also have the power to work together to eliminate digital dumps and implement safe and efficient e-waste procedures.
For corporations, the benefits are three-fold: help to save the environment by reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, reduce costs by purchasing refurbished products and improve their brand image.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is commonly at the heart of businesses today as demand grows to consider social and environmental issues. CSR improves a company’s image, has the potential to increase brand awareness, and gives an advantage over competitors. Given the rising awareness of sustainability amongst consumers (91 per cent of global consumers expect businesses to operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues), it is beneficial for companies to take responsibility for the effects of e-waste.
Christian McBride, CEO and founder, Genuine Solutions