Electronic waste is a growing concern as businesses and individuals ditch old technology for the latest upgrades, creating issues for the environment and data security when electronic waste isn’t discarded away properly.
“There’s an overflow of electronics and people don’t know what to do.” says Eric Marcus, CEO of Marcus Networking Inc., which helps businesses with technology and telecom solutions.
Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to used devices being discarded or recycled. This includes everything from your smart phone to your old TV.
By the end of 2018, the amount of e-waste generated around the world is predicted to be 49.8 million tons, with America alone responsible for at least 11.7 tons, according to a report by The Balance.
However, only 25 percent of e-waste is recycled, leaving the rest in landfills where the plastics, metals, and glass cannot be recovered and reused, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Devices like cell phones contain precious metals like silver and gold. Every year, Americans throw away $60 million worth of these materials, The Balance Reports.
One major problem is that e-waste is often made of toxic materials. Take lithium batteries, for example, which usually come in phones and laptops. Like paint and motor oil, lithium batteries pose a danger to the environment and should not be thrown into a landfill, but professionally recycled.
“It’s the same problem as cars,” Marcus explains. “When you get rid of a car, it gets smashed and compacted, but not actually disposed of. The waste is still there.”
That waste may harm the environment, as well as people. Something like lead, often found in e-waste, can harm not only the ecosystem, but people’s kidneys and nervous systems as well.
Some electronics pose a more insidious danger. If technology like your phone or computer aren’t wiped before you dispose of them, your business’s personal information may be at risk.
“People often take the path of least resistance,” says Marcus. “For instance, they’ll throw out their old computers in a dumpster. But did you remove your credit card information first? It’s not hard for someone to take those hard drives out and crack them.”
With personal devices, people can wipe the data themselves using free programs found online. But if you’re not technical, there are a variety of companies your business or you can hire to properly dispose of your devices. But be careful with who you choose, Marcus warns.
“We had some clients turn in their machines to be wiped and disposed of at other companies, only to see them appear on Craigslist. Whether these devices have family photos or banking information, people need to take their security seriously,” Marcus says.
Little devices are especially tricky. Putting sensitive information on a flash drive can be risky because if the device is lost, that information is fair game for anyone who finds it.
But what about companies that replace their machines every few years? Those computers are still usable, so why should they end up in a landfill or a recycling facility? Marcus offers several options for businesses with this issue.
One is to donate their machines to the community. Local churches, schools, or libraries can always find a use for a few laptops or computers.
Another is to circulate the machines in the company. Once they’ve been wiped of business-related data, consider raffling them off to the employees to promote good will.
Nonprofits are another example of groups that accept old electronics, often with the possibility of tax credit. Donate phones or appliances to places like women shelters, to be repurposed and given to people in the community.
But what about items that are broken or outdated beyond repair? If the item is unusable, check your city’s website to find out how to dispose of it. The city will inform you of drop off sites for donation or disposal or point you to an appropriate landfill. Some companies even come to businesses to pick up electronics for recycling.
Every day, people get rid of as many as 416,000 mobile devices and 142,000 computers. However, by recycling just one million phones, we can recover as much as 20,000 lbs. of copper, 20 lbs. of palladium, 550 lbs. of silver, and 50 lbs. of gold, according to The Balance.
That means that much less toxic waste in the environment, and that much time and energy saved making new products from those recycled materials.
Marcus is committed to reducing e-waste, not only for the benefit of his community, but for his family as well.
“It’s our duty to be responsible and recycle as much as we can. I want my children to grow up on a good Earth that isn’t polluted,” he says.