Keeping it clean—MARCH/APRIL 2012 PRINT EDITION

These days, organizations have several options for managing electronic waste

April 9, 2012
by By Michael Power

While organizations’ use of electronic office equipment increases as technology advances, so too does the need to deal properly with that equipment at the end of its useful life. Costs, environmental harm and potential breaches of sensitive information must be considered when buying IT equipment.

However, in a 2010 survey by Samsung Canada Inc and Purchasingb2b, only six percent of respondents ranked end-of-life disposal and recycling options in the top three factors when they sourced IT hardware like computers, printers and cell phones. As well, 94 percent said manufacturers were responsible for providing users with IT end-of-life solutions. But what are the risks of not disposing of e-waste properly, and how can organizations deal with those issues?

Get a plan
To deal responsibly—and economically—with e-waste, organizations must know where they’re headed, says Sandra Pakosh, director of communications with Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES), a not-for-profit organization overseeing the reuse and recycling of e-waste. Without that plan, organizations can wind up storing the waste onsite. “It’s then taking up valuable storage space or commercial real estate that could be used for generating business,” she says. Companies may then be tempted to dispose of e-waste quickly, without planning for how to handle proprietary data that equipment may still contain.

Like any consumer, businesses can sell, give away or donate unneeded electronic equipment, Pakosh says. Recycling is a good option if it no longer works and OES offers free pickup to organizations that have collected enough items. Pakosh says OES has a network of collectors and processors it can arrange for companies to deal with, depending on location. “Those approved processors and collectors are obligated through arrangements with our program to safely remove sensitive and confidential information (before recycling the equipment),” she says.

Without a trace
Effectively dealing with equipment at the end of its useful life is hitting the radars of more and more organizations, says Wallace MacKay, VP of international development with Barrie, Ontario-based Global Electric Electronic Processing (GEEP). E-waste, he notes, is among the world’s fastest growing solid waste streams, with 2.2 million tons produced in the US consumer marketplace in 2005 alone.

GEEP offers a full menu of services—including pickup—for organizations looking to dispose of e-waste, says MacKay. GEEP, which has 15 locations worldwide, will also wipe clean the hard drive of any equipment containing potentially sensitive information, a process that occurs before equipment leaves a client’s premises, he says. “We take the information off with data wiping software, bring the material into our plant, clean it off, capture the serial number, record the information and log it into our inventory system so there’s a chain of custody with no issue of information getting outside,” he says.

For many organizations, that data security remains the driving force behind proper e-waste disposal. And that’s not just for equipment like computers or Blackberries—there can also be sensitive information on items like photocopiers and scanners.

Looking for a recycler to handle e-waste? Organizations should ask what an organization’s certifications are, MacKay says, along with asking for references. The recycler should have government licensing and insurance to safeguard against liability.

Manufacturer responsibility
Manufacturers are also taking the lead in ensuring end-of-life options for e-waste. Samsung Canada Inc has begun the Samsung Recycling Direct program, says Jennifer Groh, the company’s manager of public relations and corporate social responsibility. For the program—originally for consumers but now also for businesses—the company has partnered with GEEP so customers can drop off e-waste at one of GEEP’s centres across Canada. If an organization drops off Samsung products, then Samsung will arrange the pick-up and pay the tab, Groh says.

To ensure the company can track equipment at all times, office equipment producer Ricoh ships products directly to recycling processors once those products reach the end of their useful life, says Ricoh’s vice-president of sustainability, Alan Wheeler. Ricoh also cleans information off the hard drive and, once ready for recycling, machines are pushed into a shredder that rips them into loonie-sized pieces, Wheeler says. The pieces are then broken down further and various metals and plastics are separated. The process allows for the recovery of 98.4 percent of a piece of equipment.

Ricoh’s customers have become more involved with the recycling process in recent years, Wheeler says. Issues surrounding recycling are a natural line of questioning for organizations looking to improve the sustainability of their IT equipment from the beginning of the supply chain to the end. “On every single RFP that I see, there’s a recycling question,” he notes. “They want to work with a company that’s in control of their downstream chain of custody.”                     b2b