Companies depend on technology to stay competitive, but may give little thought to tech tools once they’re no longer needed. The United States alone generates nearly 7 million tons of electronic waste per year, according to United Nations University. Furthermore, more than 80 percent of discarded electronics are placed in landfills or incinerators, where they can leach toxic chemicals into the soil, atmosphere and groundwater.
Staples Director of Sustainability Jake Swenson explains how companies can help combat the problem by implementing a sustainable tech strategy. He describes the four pillars of a successful program.
Refurbish for Better Performance
Just because an item has slowed down doesn’t mean it must go. Refurbishing and updating technology with new software or parts can improve its performance and cut down on the need for replacements.
“I always recommend that companies try and refurbish their tech items to get the most useful life out of them,” Swenson says. “This not only helps from a time and cost perspective, but also from an environmental one as a lot of energy and materials go into building technology products.”
Refurbishing can also include rotating technology through the office, Swenson explains. For example, if a printer isn’t fast enough or doesn’t have the capabilities that one department needs, another team may be able to use it. Before disposing of a device, determine the needs in other departments.
Donate Tech to Local Organizations
If you have tech items you no longer need but are still in working order, look into donation programs in your area. Local charities, schools or nonprofit organizations can benefit from your older devices.
“Local organizations oftentimes lack tech budgets, so this is a great way for businesses to give back to their communities,” Swenson says. “Just be sure that any devices you’re donating still provide necessary functions and would not be a burden.”
Your recycling partner or tech vendor may be able to help find an organization and prepare your devices for donation. They can help ensure your business data is properly wiped and that the tech items are ready for recipients. Tech donations may also be tax deductible for your business, but check with your finance department or accountant to make sure you understand the regulations.
Assess Your Electronics Recycling Options
If your tech items are not properly recycled, your business not only runs the risk of confidential information getting out, but also hazardous materials harming the environment.
“There are many reusable and recyclable materials in technology devices, such as important metals and plastics that can be used for making new products,” Swenson explains. “There is value there, but the recycling needs to be responsibly done.”
The key is to choose an e-waste recycling partner or program that provides you with confirmation that it properly disposes of your devices. Swenson suggests working with an e-Stewards-certified recycler, as this certification has stringent requirements for how technology is handled and recycled. Ask your recycling partner if they provide certificates of destruction, which let you know your old devices no longer pose a risk.
Know What to Look for in New Tech
Your sustainable tech strategy doesn’t just apply to the items you already have — it also shapes how you make future tech purchases.
Swenson recommends seeking out technology that is included in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry. EPEAT covers a variety of environmentally friendly factors, including packaging, design for recyclability, reduction in use of toxic materials and design for easy disassembly and repair.
Other elements to look for include each device’s energy consumption, as well as the amount of recycled materials and energy used when making the device. Ask your vendor for help on learning more about environmentally friendly features in tech tools.
To spur even more sustainability and reduce tech waste, look for ways to consolidate items throughout the business. For example, host a few high-volume printers in a central location rather than having many different printers scattered around. This helps reduce maintenance and printing costs for your business, and the use of fewer machines provides a boost to your eco-friendly status.