The Effects of E-Waste on the Environment
Of the many crises looming over society, the effects of e-waste on the environment are a major consideration for organizations in the US and globally that deserve urgent attention.
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is at a global tipping point. The mass consumption of electronics and IT assets paired with the obsolescence of end-of-life modern electronics is having severe repercussions on the environment.
Therefore, electronics waste disposal is worthy of practical solutions that mitigate the negative effects of e-waste on the environment while simultaneously benefitting organizations financially through the implementation of strategies such as circular economy models.
What is E-Waste?
E-waste consists of electronic products that are disposed of either due to reaching their end-of-life (EoL), being unwanted, or have simply stopped working. Television sets, photocopiers, fax machines, desktop PCs, laptops, cell phones, and tablets are all common examples of e-waste.
Quite often, it’s challenging and cost-prohibitive to recycle electronics, especially in recent years whereby microchips and circuit boards have gotten smaller and more proprietary technologies to make reuse or recycling not a feasible option for private individuals and organizations alike. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to recycle or reuse electronics, however.
According to the EPA, e-waste is defined as a “subset of used electronics and recognizes the inherent value of these materials that can be reused, refurbished or recycled to minimize the actual waste that might end up in a landfill or improperly disposed of in an unprotected dump site either in the US or abroad.”
While it may sound like the EPA’s definition of e-waste is beneficial for the environment, the reality is that millions of tons of e-waste end up in landfills every year, polluting the environment and creating serious hazards.
How Much E-Waste is Being Generated?
E-waste disposal was not a serious problem until the 1970s when developments in microchip technology and the mass consumerism of television sets and other electronics began to take off. In 2021, however, the problem of e-waste affecting the environment has reached a critical point for several important reasons.
One of the most prominent international associations promoting responsible recycling of e-waste and thus lessening the environmental impacts of e-waste, the WEEE Forum noted during their International E-Waste Day 2021 that nearly 57.4M tonnes (nearly 63.3 million tons) of electronic waste are expected in 2021. They also estimate that the total amount of e-waste disposal worldwide is growing by around 3-4%, or 2M tonnes (2.2 million tons) per year.
To put things into perspective, in the US alone nearly 151 million phones are either incinerated or tossed into landfills every year, which amounts to over 416,000 per day. WEEE reports that this massive amount of e-waste contributes to around 40% or so of all heavy metals found in US landfills.
The Effects of E-Waste on the Environment
Is e-waste a problem? Is it bad for the environment? In brief, yes, the effect of electronic waste on the environment is a real problem due to the number of heavy metals and toxic materials used in the manufacture of modern electronics.
It’s one thing to have your phone above ground whereby many of these toxic materials are inert and pose little threat, but once they’re buried in a landfill the environmental hazards emerge. Many modern electronics contain materials such as cadmium, beryllium, lead, and mercury, which all pose a real threat to the ground soil, water reservoirs, air, and destroy once-vibrant ecosystems for wildlife.
As e-waste gradually dissolves in landfills, these materials form a sludge containing significant quantities of toxic materials that enter the soil in a process known as leaching, thus polluting the environment, and effectively poisoning the soil, water, and air. The more e-waste is tossed into landfills, the greater the problem of leaching.
Solutions to the E-Waste Crisis
Fortunately, efforts to reduce the effects of e-waste on the environment have begun to spring up in recent decades and increasingly so in the United States.
Perhaps the first solution that comes to mind is recycling, and rightly so. We’ve put together a video highlighting the challenges posed by e-waste to the environment which refers to e-waste potentially being worth up to $62.6 billion annually. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the saying goes, and that treasure is worth quite a bit. What’s holding back organizations from recycling e-waste, then?
It could very well be that the process is simply too labor-intensive and time-consuming, requiring specialized sorting and shredding equipment for electronics, for example. More than likely, the status quo of our “take, make, waste” business world is what’s holding a lot of organizations back.
According to a Business Insider report, only 17% of e-waste in the US is recycled, but any effort to reduce the effects of e-waste on the environment is an excellent motivation for companies and organizations to get on board with sensible e-waste disposal. Considering that e-waste is worth billions of dollars, it quite literally pays to find alternative solutions to the landfill.
A Circular Economy Model
Since the 1970s, households, and consumers in the United States have become well-aware of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This mindset is critical for the circular economy model of many organizations today, which is gradually replacing the ‘linear’ models of yesteryear whereby the mindset has long been to “take, make, waste.”
It just so happens that the circular economy provides an excellent solution to mitigating the effects of e-waste on the environment. Rather than “sweeping the problem under the rug” and dealing with e-waste only once it’s reached EoL, a circular economy model instead finds ways to repurpose e-waste through refurbishment, recycling, reuse, and/or remarketing electronics and only disposing of electronics when all other options have been exhausted.
There is a problem with that last statement, however. For many organizations, it may not be practical or cost-efficient to repurpose EoL IT assets and electronics, so disposal becomes the predominant option. In other words, the problem perpetuates itself repeatedly.
In recent decades, IT asset disposition (ITAD) providers such as Wisetek have risen to meet several new challenges faced by large organizations dealing with large inventories of IT assets. ITAD companies provide services such as secure hard drive disposal and data destruction, but reputable ITAD companies such as Wisetek go above and beyond by reducing e-waste altogether using circular economy models that work.
E-Waste: More Than Just Environmental Hazards
Thus far, we’ve only gone over the negative effects of e-waste on the environment, but it’s worth noting that e-waste also poses significant threat vectors to organizations.
One of the greatest sources of costly data breaches is not from cybersecurity threats (and they are indeed a growing threat to organizations) but rather from accessing discarded EoL IT assets from an organization. There are many methods for how to dispose of hard drives, but simply discarding them for waste without adequately destroying all sensitive data beforehand is a recipe for disaster.
Large IT projects such as data center decommissioning, for example, can produce significant quantities of hard drives and magnetic media containing sensitive data (e.g., personally identifiable information on customers, credit card details, and so on). ITAD providers such as Wisetek are therefore necessary both for the secure processing of sensitive data through data destruction services but also to ensure that EoL IT assets are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
Furthermore, organizations stand to benefit from the provision of ITAD services that are sustainable as it helps to achieve Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals for environmental stewardship.
How Can Wisetek Help Reduce E-Waste?
E-waste is a growing problem in the US and worldwide, which is why it’s so important to address the problem sooner rather than later. Not only does responsible recycling and other methods such as the circular economy model help to alleviate the burden on our landfills and the environment, but it also benefits organizations by meeting CSR goals, remaining compliant with data disposal laws, and preventing a major source of data breaches.
Wisetek provides services that tick all these boxes, but our commitment to a zero-landfill policy is just one of many reasons why our ITAD company should be considered as your number one reliable partner for secure ITAD services in the US and globally.
Our zero-landfill policy is just that: we strive to reduce the amount of e-waste generated by organizations across the United States. How is this even possible? As Certified Recycling specialists of associations such as R2 – Responsible Recycling, e-Stewards, ISO 14001, and more, are auditable and transparent processes that ensure that the maximum possible amount of e-waste is diverted from landfills and instead reintroduced within our circular economy model.
We operate an effective, functional circular economy model that strives to minimize all e-waste and to divert all hard drives, laptops, phones, and other IT assets away from landfills and instead repurposes, refurbishes, recycles, and remarkets these devices through our eCommerce store Wisetek Market. What’s even better is that organizations can achieve maximum ROI on their IT assets when resold, all while maintaining a commitment to a zero-landfill policy that doesn’t just look great for CSR purposes but rather is great for CSR and the environment.
In summary, the process of responsible e-waste disposal is certainly challenging and complex for organizations that are trying to meet CSR and environmental stewardship goals. Wisetek makes the process simple and stress-free while also being cost-effective.
Contact Wisetek Today
Wisetek is your reliable and trusted partner for ITAD services in the US. Our professional, secure data destruction services and our commitment to a zero-landfill policy make us a sensible choice for IT asset disposition in the US and internationally.