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Management of electronic waste, otherwise known as e-waste, is one of the hottest growth sectors in the recycling industry. From commercial to consumer technology, the insatiable appetite for technology drives a need to obtain the latest and greatest cell phone or ultra-fast server.
While this has translated to improved performance, the consequence is mountains of outdated or end-of-life equipment that must be addressed. The numbers are staggering. According to recent government calculations, the United States generates approximately 2.5 million tons of e-waste annually. This amount shows no signs of decline, and will most likely only increase.
The responsible disposal of e-waste ranging from plastics and glass to heavy and precious metals is becoming a major point of concern for both individuals and corporations. As such, e-waste and "green recycling" has gained significant momentum in recent years. However, there is a perception from some that e-waste equates to little more than handling scrap, and, unfortunately, the lack of regulation doesn't support the contrary. Only 24 states currently have any laws pertaining to e-waste, and, surprisingly, there are no federal mandates whatsoever.
It has been left to private industry to define the category of e-waste management and lead the charge to keep this material from landfills, while attempting to generate as much value as possible. Regardless of the motive, be it revenue generation or legitimate concern for the environment, it is clear that relying on government to control the problem is impractical at this point.
The supply chain serves a critical role in the collection, transport and processing of e-waste. When managing this material, a viable logistics network is fundamental to the integrity of the environment, as well as the value created by recycling or re-marketing devices.
For the vast majority of populated areas, landfills are running out of space, and there is little room for expansion. With an influx of e-waste to an already strained situation, a tipping point is on the horizon. Progress in overall societal attitudes as well as advancement in technology and processes have made recycling, harvesting and re-marketing of e-waste economically viable. Quite simply, the time to fulfill the goal for "zero landfill" of this material has never been more appropriate.
OEMs and service providers now feel a sense of obligation to satisfy consumers with "green" disposal and e-waste management, however, there could be some negative consequences. Some companies have been victimized by unscrupulous e-waste management providers who have transported material illegally overseas for disposal. This subjects both the environment and population to potentially hazardous materials.
In some countries, this behavior can result in severe criminal action and fines for the so-called "recycler" as well as their customer. Because of this reality, those seeking an e-waste management partner are well-served to conduct thorough due diligence. It is of utmost importance to work with an organization with strong supply chain and logistics experience so this material can be ethically and responsibly managed.
Reputable practitioners of e-waste management should be expected to hold a variety of established private certifications to reinforce their qualifications. Recognized credentials, including ISO 9001, ISO 14000 and R2, should be the standard for any decision-making process. Without them, a provider should be dismissed outright. This level of scrutiny is essential to protect the reputation of a company and anyone responsible for e-waste material. Otherwise, the harsh reality of jail time or financial penalties could result in the country of origin or abroad, depending on the severity of a violation.
Beyond environmental protection, a huge component of e-waste management is controlling the personal or sensitive data that resides on virtually every electronic device. It is imperative to work with an e-waste management partner that has the expertise, logistics network and facilities to reduce the risk of that data being compromised.
A preferred e-waste company will be focused on supply chain best practices and utilize advanced software such as warehouse management systems to track and monitor the movement of e-waste. From the reverse logistics process of collecting and transporting the material to a facility, to demanufacturing and harvesting devices, there must be sound processes in place.
Sophisticated providers will have the ability to track and monitor devices and components at the serialized level. This provides customers with the peace of mind as to where equipment is at any given time, and most importantly, who is in control. While there are some components of e-waste that don't require this level of scrutiny, it is a must-have for hard drives, flash drives and other data storage units.
It is important to understand that data resides on mobile devices and computers in a number of areas beyond the hard drive. To guard against liability and protect privacy, OEMs and service providers must have the ability to demonstrate to their customers, that their e-waste management provider has destroyed all data before a device is reintroduced into the supply chain. Even if the device is considered "beyond economic repair" and slated for destruction, or recycling, documentation should still be in place that substantiates that data was destroyed.
To achieve this level of security, an e-waste partner should have on-site shredders and data-wiping equipment within a secure facility to mitigate exposure risk. Providers should also be expected to screen employees with regular background checks and drug tests for added confidence. If a partner does "outsource" any work, they should be able to document that the vendor is equally as competent and qualified.
Value from e-waste can be a compelling factor for recycling, harvesting and re-marketing the material. For many devices, like set-top boxes, there are components, including hard drives, that can be extracted, wiped of data and entered back into the supply chain for re-marketing or parts. For example, a 1TB hard drive can be resold to an overseas manufacturer for $35 to $40, as opposed to the manufacturer purchasing a new unit for $150. It's a win-win on both sides of the equation for something that would otherwise be destroyed.
Based on the information housed on PC hard drives, extra caution should be taken when determining a course of action. If it contains extremely sensitive data, it might be advisable to destroy the device outright to eliminate any possibility of unauthorized data recovery. However, when PC hard drive data isn't confidential, it can be wiped and resold or donated to a charity.
When a device or component is completely void of functionality, the parts can be separated and materials such as circuit boards that include plastics and heavy materials can be shredded, sorted and resold as raw materials to be re-injected into the electronics supply chain. Plastics can also be collected to create other goods.
E-waste is a growing concern and will only gain momentum. There are two primary components for the responsible management of this material: environmental protection and information protection. Both of these elements equate to reputation protection for manufacturers and service providers seeking to benefit as an environmental steward, while generating value for technology that has outlived its usefulness.
As green consciousness becomes a driving force behind purchasing decisions, companies that adopt strong programs and policies will be more attractive in a competitive marketplace and viewed as good corporate citizens. However, to be effective, sound, long-term partnerships with reliable e-waste management providers must be forged.
Source: Greenstream International
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