So you Think you Know Everything about Electronic Waste – Let’s Find out …
Electronics, from our cell phones to our computers, from copiers and printers to networking gear, to medical devices and televisions, carry with them many reasons they shouldn’t be simply tossed. It’s both what’s in them as well as what’s on them that requires special handling. What’s on them is data, likely sensitive data that must be appropriately erased with an audit trail to prove it. What’s in them – namely the compounds from which they are manufactured – presents the many important environmental concerns that warrant safe handling, including:
2) Rare Earth Elements
3) Conflict Minerals
4) Reusable materials
Electronics contain various toxic compounds that present environmental and worker safety risks if not handled appropriately. If thrown into landfills, these toxins poison the soil and water. If incinerated, these toxins become hazardous gases. Without adequate protection, handling these materials can harm workers.
Rare Earth Elements
Some of what makes electronics function the way they do – what makes cell phones vibrate, for example, the special magnets used in disk drives, compounds used in lasers and medical imaging – result from the properties associated with a group of elements from the periodic table of elements known as the “rare earth” elements or materials. These “rare earths” are not so much rare as they are difficult and dirty to extract. Indeed, they’re relatively plentiful in the earth’s crust, but today they are sourced almost exclusively from China. Already China has announced that its supplies are running out. Already mining has resumed in the United States, and already the projected demand is outpacing the projected supply. Making the supply of rare earth elements even more problematic is that fact that to date, we have no process to reclaim them. This means that it’s imperative to continue to use what we have as long as it functions and not simply dump today’s electronics in favor of the next new thing. If there’s a compelling reason to adopt new technology, make sure usable technology finds a new home and isn’t forced prematurely into the waste stream.
Common in today’s electronics are four minerals that, when sourced in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), may be associated with heinous crimes including murder and rape. Documenting the source of gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin is now part of the legislative reform passed in August 2012. As part of Dodd-Frank, suppliers are required to identify the sources of these minerals that may be originating in the DRC or adjoining countries. Keeping the lineage of the materials in tact will help suppliers source from ethical sources.
Pretty much everything used to make electronics can be reclaimed and put back into new manufacture – from plastic to copper to lead and glass. When equipment truly cannot be used further and its salvageable parts have been harvested, appropriate recycling sends materials back into the manufacturing stream.
Make IT Last
From an energy perspective, the greatest energy expenditure associated with an electronic asset comes in its manufacture, where the energy expended out-strips the energy used in the course of the asset’s life. For that reason, it’s imperative to make every attempt to extend the usable life. Assets can be repaired, refurbished and upgraded. If the upgraded asset isn’t what’s needed in the organization, the asset can be sold or donated, often extending the asset life by as much as four or five years.
What Redemtech Does
Redemtech does everything it can to protect people, the planet and the organizations that trust Redemtech with their assets. All data-bearing assets are treated with the highest security, ensuring no data is ever discoverable on any asset Redemtech processes. Redemtech does everything possible to extend the life of assets – repairing, refurbishing, and upgrading them so that they can be redeployed back into an organization, resold or donated. For equipment that can’t be fixed, Redemtech harvests serviceable parts to repair other equipment. When nothing usable is left, Redemtech uses e-Stewards certified downstream recycling processors to return every recoverable commodity to the manufacturing stream. Mercury handlers reclaim the mercury – no mercury containing device is ever shredded. Leaded glass heads to the lead smelter. Plastic to the plastic recycler. No electronic waste is ever sent to landfill, nothing is ever incinerated, and no non-functioning equipment is ever shipped abroad. Beyond this, Redemtech’s Serious Good initiatives channel usable equipment to programs like ¬ Connect to Compete, a national initiative to address the digital divide, and Habitat for Humanity.
Redemtech is now an Arrow Company and we’re proud to be part of a global organization that’s thinking “Five Years Out”. Check out our new family in a couple of great short videos like this one and this. You’ll quickly see why we’re so excited.