The Price of “Free” Electronics Recycling

To understand the potential for damages, it’s first valuable to remember why electronics need to be recycled, not simply thrown away. In a nutshell, electronic equipment often contains dangerous toxins that can leach out in a landfill, endangering water supplies and the environment. These toxins – including lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium – are known to cause damage to the human body, even in low doses, so their entry into the water supply could be catastrophic.

So, why would a for-profit company offering “free” electronics recycling want to take on your e-waste issue? It works like this. Recyclers ship huge quantities of used electronics at a very low cost to countries like China or Malaysia, where they will be deconstructed to pull out valuable materials inside – at low wages and under unregulated, dangerous conditions. So, even without collecting fees from the owners (you), these companies can make a profit based on the volume of the high-value elements extracted from your old electronics.

Win-win situation, right? Not so fast. This practice is highly dangerous, for several reasons:

It may endanger the health of the overseas workers taking apart the electronics, and the people in the nearby vicinity. Workers often are not wearing protective gear, and/or discarded components are burned, exposing communities to the toxins within.
If not properly disposed of in an unregulated environment, the discarded components can end up in a landfill, endangering water systems and entire communities.
If your computers are found to be in such a landfill and endangering the environment, YOU (or your company) can be named in a lawsuit. That’s right, you can be held responsible for where your e-waste ends up.

If you’re thinking that the church or community free e-recycling event that you are planning to attend means that it must be safe, unfortunately, think again. Even companies that appear legitimate and approach community groups have been found guilty of this practice.

So, how can you ensure that you or your company doesn’t unwittingly dispose improperly of your hazardous waste? First, be highly careful about “free” e-waste recycling events. It’s worth spending the small amount to do this right. When choosing an e-waste recycler, look for a company who has been certified by an independent auditor. The EPA gives guidelines and recommends in particular e-Stewards and R2 certified recyclers.

Choosing a company that is certified by one or both of these organizations is a strong indicator that you are making a safe choice. Certified companies offer the following benefits:

Certificate of Compliant Disposal transfers all legal liabilities away from the customer as soon as the company takes custody of the assets.
Monthly weight balancing accounts for every pound of material at the facility, providing added reassurance of environmental compliance.
A comprehensive audit & testing process can result to returned revenue to customers wherever possible.
Data security is a key component of the recycling process. Hard drives and other digital media are shredded, wiped, or degaussed to Department of Defense standards. A certificate and evidence of such destruction are available to customers.
Companies refurbish and remarket for reuse where possible – rather than treating everything as “scrap”.

With technology changing at a more rapid pace than ever, safe e-waste recycling is also more important than ever. While the general public has become increasingly educated about this, the EPA estimates that only about 20% of e-waste is currently being recycled. An unknown portion of that 20% is still not being recycled safely. Play your part, and protect your data, the environment, and your reputation, by selecting an e-waste recycler who has been certified – and dispose of your e-waste, worry free.

Leave a Reply