Decrease E-Waste to Restore Our Earth
For more than 50 years, April 22nd has been designated as Earth Day. The theme of Earth Day 2021 is “Restore Our Earth” so this seems like an appropriate occasion to bring attention to the issue of e-waste, give examples of what creates e-waste and what decreases it, and illustrate how businesses can help Restore Our Earth by properly disposing of their technology.
We all depend on technology to support our jobs, livelihood, health, and happiness, just like we also depend on a healthy Earth to support those same things. But when technology has reached the end of its useful life or no longer needed, it becomes e-waste.
E-waste is a major ecological problem because when it is disposed of in landfills, the components break down and contaminate the soil and groundwater, putting water sources and agriculture at risk. Chemicals in e-waste can include lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and chromium, which are taken up by plants through the soil, and humans through food, water, airborne dust, and skin contact. Examples of e-waste include laptops, desktops, televisions, stereos, copiers, monitors, keyboards, and smartphones.
Activities that contribute to e-waste:
“Trash is trash, right?” Many organizations treat outdated technology just like old office supply catalogs or discarded coffee cups and dispose of it in their trash.
“It’s just a keyboard (or mouse, or cable, or…)” All technology has the potential to harm the Earth and should all be disposed of safely; just because it doesn’t hold data doesn’t mean it isn’t e-waste.
“Out of sight, out of mind.” For far too many organizations, when their technology reaches the end of its life, it ends up in a storeroom or locked in a secure caged area. Whether it’s because they are holding onto technology because of the sensitive and valuable data it contains, or they don’t know what to do with it, eventually they will run out of room and will have to deal with disposing of their old devices.
These can help decrease e-waste:
Having a sustainability officer or department. Corporate reporting on sustainability has grown more than fivefold in the last 10 years, with 86% of S&P 500 companies annually publishing a sustainability report. (GreenBiz, 2020) Corporate responsibility is becoming more holistic, and is increasingly focused on social, environmental, and economic concerns, or what some call, “people, planet, profit.”
States laws and regulations that help control e-waste. Just over half of the states have e-waste regulations. In 2003, California became the first state to pass e-recycling regulations and since, 27 other states and the District of Columbia have done the same. That means that 22 states have no e-waste laws.
Rethink what “end of life” really means. Technology is frequently deemed “end of life” before it needs to be, and many organizations can save money by redistributing older technology. A power user’s software may push the limits of its hardware and need to be refreshed every few years, but their hand-me-down machine would suit someone else’s needs just fine. Also, more moderate users can use their technology longer, so not everyone needs to be on the same device refresh cycle. In addition, donating old technology to non-profit organizations (after they have been properly wiped of data, of course) further extends the useful life of a device.
How your business can help “Restore Our Earth:”
Make safe technology disposition a part of your IT procurement process. Having a good “exit strategy” for your technology devices makes good business sense. Not only does it keep toxic materials out of landfills, it ensures that all the data on the device is safely destroyed before the physical components are also destroyed. This prevents the data on the device from getting into the wrong hands.
Incentivize proper disposition of technology assets. “You get the behavior you reward” is a tried-and-true business phrase, but an incentive program will help ensure that end of life technology is properly repurposed or recycled.
Change how we view technology. We tend to view technology as disposable, and we shouldn’t. Rather than thinking technology is easier to replace than repair, we should think of it like we do cars – when a problem arises with a car, we fix it rather than replace it. By considering technology as “durables” instead of “disposables,” we will get more use out of them.
According to a UN report, less than 20% of e-waste is recycled and the other 80% either ends up in a landfill or is sent to developing countries such as India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Philippines and Africa, which do not have strict environmental regulations. The problem is growing – global e-waste production is on track to reach 120 million tons per year by 2050.
A large part of the problem is that we do not make it easy to recycle technology and we don’t place as much emphasis on it as recycling plastic bottles or aluminum cans. But the fact is that we need to do more to extend the life of technology, and when it does come time to dispose of it, do so safely. We must Restore Our Earth not just because we care about it, but because we live on it.
Technology leaves behind e-waste, which has a negative impact on our environment, and it often is filled with company and personal data, creating a security risk if it is not properly destroyed. MCPC considers e-waste a global environmental issue and as such, we are committed to sustainability.
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