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How One E-Waste Recycler Uses Education to Incentivize the Right Behaviors

Image credit: Revolution Recycling

In the early days of my career, more years ago than I care to admit, I spent a good part of my time explaining to people what e-waste was, that it was hazardous and that it shouldn’t be landfilled. I’m pleased to report that those days are over. Most of us today are well aware of the tide of electronics washing up in China, Africa and elsewhere. The vast majority of us want to ensure our discarded electronic paperweights are properly recycled. We are moving in the right direction.

A common problem remains, though; and, as with most persistent issues, it comes down to money. Companies of all sizes dedicate increasing shares of their capital and operating budgets to the acquisition of IT hardware and services. Disposition often remains an afterthought; and, as with most forgotten line items, there is often no budget attached to this part of the lifecycle.

So, what is an electronics recycler to do if its target customer base typically hasn’t allocated any funds to pay for the service we’re providing? The answer is straightforward: We decided to educate our customers so they make informed decisions. Once they are informed, we’re pretty confident that we’ll win their business.

What drives value and cost in obsolete e-waste?

When thinking about the challenge of recycling e-waste in an economically sustainable manner, it’s helpful to understand the drivers of value and cost in a typical pile of end-of-life hardware. These are the key educational points we make sure to drive home.

  • It may be end of life for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s its end of life. Secondhand shops are as old as retail. Why? Because one person’s trash has always been another person’s treasure. The same is true for electronics. You may be done with your smartphone because you need something fancier, faster and sexier. The guy down the street or on the other side of the world? Maybe his grandma just needs to send some emails and that three-year-old phone is perfect. Lesson: The best way to improve the economics of e-waste recycling is to reuse as much as possible. Don’t put unnecessary restrictions on your recycler, such as any electronics older than two years must be disassembled and recycled.
  • Electronics do not age like wine. I drank a beautiful 2011 Pinot Noir the other day. Amazing. My 2011 Blackberry 9700, on the other hand? Not so much. Revolution encourages our customers to dispose of their assets quickly once the decision has been made to retire them. The longer it sits in your server room, desk drawer or closet, the less it’s worth and the more likely that you will have to pay for it to be recycled. Lesson: Don’t delay. Recycle today.
  • Certifications matter. There’s a right and wrong way to go about getting your electronics recycled. The wrong way is to go with whoever comes up first on Google. To be clear, the first ranked search may be the right choice, but you owe it to yourself and the environment to ask some questions. Why? Because not all electronics recyclers are created equal. Globally recognized e-waste recycling standards such as R2 are a signal that the company you are dealing with has been audited to ensure strict compliance with data and environmental protocols. If it  doesn’t hold this certification, you don’t know what’s happening to your electronics. In addition, holders of the right certifications are often able to access subsidies and incentives to ensure proper recycling of your assets. This is where the economic part of the conversation comes into play. Lesson: Proper recycling costs money. Using a certified recycler often means you’re not bearing the full cost of proper data and environmental handling since your local government or regional government will often indirectly subsidize a portion of it.
  • Data breaches are expensive. Don’t be cheap. Recent data breach victims from the corporate sector include Winners, Home Depot, Yahoo and Equifax. How silly would you feel if it happened to you because you went with the cheapest data disposition service provider? Would the few dollars per hard drive you saved at the time be worth it? In the context of reusing assets, data handling becomes even more critical. It can be done safely, but only if your chosen vendor knows what they are doing. Lesson: Assets can be reused safely, maximizing value for your company, but only if your data is secured by a reputable vendor.

If you choose your IT recycling partner wisely, they will minimize your costs in balance with maximizing your level of compliance and security. That is the balance every IT manager should be seeking to strike. Disposition doesn’t have to cost much, but free beyond reason is like the old adage goes: too good to be true. The number one way you can manage your risks is to insist on visiting your vendor’s facility to see firsthand what they are doing. Proper recyclers will be proud of their operation and will want to show it off. Non-certified recyclers, sometimes posing as nonprofits, will have a lot of reasons why visiting their facility isn’t possible.

Be secure. Be smart. Happy recycling.


Clayton brings over 15 years of direct experience in the electronics recycling industry to Shift and Revolution. In that time he has worked with all of Canada’s provincial stewardship programs as well as Fortune 500 OEMs and Retailers… [Read more about Clayton Miller]


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