Do you know where your unwanted or un-working electronics really go? Most people and many in the recycling/waste management community have been dealing with this issue for several years now. Exposés have been featured on programs like “60 Minutes” and in the National publications on where some of these items wind up.
Sadly, a surprising amount of electronics wind up going to unlicensed and regulated facilities in third world countries where burn piles are set up and children are involved in picking through the remains. The fumes are toxic and polluted water runs off into local streams and impacts drinking water.
Improperly stored material (Such as the material in the picture) emits bromides when subjected to open air and UV… Lead and mercury can leach from monitors and other components as the material gets wet and that lechate travels directly into streams and waterways ultimately impacting waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.
Improperly disposed of electronics with personal data on them like computers and smart phones are a treasure trove of information for Identity thieves. Once they have your information there is no telling where it could wind up. State and US laws have not kept up with new technologies and the justice system does not offer a great deal of protection if your personal data from an old computer finds its way to some information seller in another state or country.
What can you do?
- When you send your material off to a recycling center or take it to a facility for re-use find out what will be done to the data on hard drives. During a recent event with a reputable electronics recycler, several portable pieces still had battery power and personal data on them. When you come to an event sponsored by a locality, this is normally addressed in advance, but feel free to ask.
- With leased equipment like copiers and community printers for offices, most now have hard drives on them that can remember (Write to a hard drive) everything they have seen… Ask if serviceable equipment will have data wiped and if they provide the organization, municipality or nonprofit that is handling the material with a certificate of destruction.
- Ask for a list of Down Stream Vendors… You want to know where the products are being dismantled and that they are going to be handled in an environmentally responsible manner
- Ask if the recycler has EPA R-2, RIOS and ISO 14001 certifications. These are all certifications by third party agencies to ensure that companies who handle material are certified for the work they are doing. Sadly, many non profits who are running reclamation and recycling programs do not have the certification. While this does not necessarily apply to thrift stores, an increasing number are affiliating with licensed companies to avoid liability.
EPA regulations are changing and evolving. The EPA Certified Recylers List is a list of the EPA R-2 Certified E-cyclers in the US. These regulations help electronics recyclers to maintain certain standards for dismantling, rebuilding and data handling.
Knowing these simple steps can be helpful in evaluating Electronics Recycling and Reclamation programs and helps us all to ensure that material and data is securely disposed of. It also is a source of “rare earth” minerals and other raw materials needed to produce new products thus creating jobs and promoting a more sustainable technological future for us all.
Dan Baxter is the Business Recycling and Sustainability Coordinator for City of Newport News, Chairman of the Virginia Beach Clean Community Commission and Vice Chairman of the Recycling and Litter Prevention Subcommittee of askHRgreen.org.