One of the realities of life in the digital age is the presence of E-waste. Computers, printers, fax machines, mobile phones, and other electronic devices are here to stay. They also break, become obsolete or redundant, and need to be replaced for a number of reasons. What happens to them once they’ve been discarded? Even when computer hard-drives have been wiped clean of data, disposing of the physical object is no longer just a matter of pitching it into a dumpster. E-waste contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals extremely dangerous to the environment, making it absolutely necessary that the discarded technology be properly recycled. Some manufacturers and retailers are aware of the problem, and have implemented programs for recycling E-waste responsibly.
GPS Tracks U.S. E-waste Offshore
But how effective is the job the E-waste recyclers are doing? In a recent article for The Intercept, author Elizabeth Grossman raises concerns over the care American recyclers exercise in their processing of E-waste. According to Grossman, approximately 30% of the E-waste turned in for recycling in the US is sold and exported to developing countries. Even US recyclers who had been certified as R2 or E-Stewards (indicating that they were following environmental guidelines) were shown by GPS tracking devices to be exporting a portion of their recyclables to places such as Hong Kong, Pakistan, and Mexico. There the E-waste ends up being dismantled through rudimentary processes that can expose workers, including children, to hazardous and toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Some of the discarded waste ends up in landfills, where it can leach into waterways. Since the US generates approximately 3.14 million tons of E-waste every year, 40% of which is recycled, the amount of E-waste sold for export is considerable. And although governmental action has been proposed to restrict the export of E-waste, the US Congress has failed to consider any of the bills introduced so far.
Properly Disposing of E-Waste
The responsible disposal of E-waste should be a matter of concern for all American businesses, organizations, and individuals. The temptation simply to dump a broken, worn, or outdated piece of machinery at the local Good Will or recycle center is great, but should be resisted. There’s a very good and selfish reason why this is so: even broken computers contain a great deal of data that can be retrieved and used to its original owner’s disadvantage. Data security concerns demand that companies pay close attention to the fate of any technology that is about to be recycled. All data must be wiped from hard drives before they are discarded. The effective disposal of such data can be taken care of quickly and conveniently when a company relies upon a managed service provider. An IT support company possesses the expertise to clean E-waste safely and thoroughly before it leaves for recycling. Some managed service providers are particularly committed to environmental concerns, and can both dispose of data and see to the responsible recycling of the physical technology, either by carrying this out themselves or sending it to trusted “green” recycling organizations.