Rapidly evolving technology has generated a great deal of electronic waste. The U.S. generates 2.5 million tons of e-waste per year and most of it is exported to other countries, according to EBN. Though plastic, glass and metal elements can be recycled, it can be a costly process, so many developed nations send old electronics to other countries where it costs less for workers to break e-waste down. The entire electronics supply chain can have a role in reducing e-waste.
Most states have laws preventing obsolete devices from being dumped in landfills, but only one-quarter of the disposed e-waste gets recycled, Bloomberg Businessweek stated. It can be difficult to properly recycle e-waste because there are toxic chemicals like lead and mercury. Developing nations have fewer regulations, and workers may not know the personal risks of handling dangerous materials. Firms that practice improper use could add to harmful pollution.
How to improve e-waste recycling
When businesses need to dispose of old devices, they must ensure they are using a certified recycler, Businessweek said. Small- and mid-size businesses are more likely to improperly dispose of electronics.
Electronics manufacturers can also reduce the amount of e-waste created each year by creating efforts to extend the lifespan of electronic components, EBN reported. If existing equipment is used longer, it will reduce churn and allow recyclers to find better ways of breaking down e-waste. Some electronics manufacturers have created refurbishment programs to rehabilitate old computers and servers, according to Businessweek.
Equipment leased to businesses is repaired and resold, preventing devices to contribute to e-waste. IBM handles 38,000 pieces of old equipment per week and is able to refurbish about 90 percent. The majority of the components are able to be reused in new devices, and only 1 percent ends up in landfills, IBM reported to Businessweek. In addition to being environmentally sound, this practice can reduce manufacturing costs.