How to Choose the Right E-Waste Recycling Partner

Taking the time to search for and select a responsible e-waste recycling partner can have significant benefits for your business. Learn what to look for.

With the life span of laptops averaging three years, desktop computers around five years and smartphones about two years, chances are you’re regularly replacing business technology. Staples’ Director of Sustainability Jake Swenson provides insight into how to find a reputable partner to help you responsibly recycle your company’s electronic waste (e-waste).

According to a report from Waste Management, Americans discard about 130,000 computers daily, even though nearly all of a computer's useful materials can be retrieved through recycling. Furthermore, the fate of most e-waste (76 percent) is unknown: This e-waste is likely dumped, traded or recycled under inferior conditions, according to the 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor

By partnering with a reputable e-waste recycling partner, you can protect your company, your employees and your confidential information.

Know the Risks

To choose a partner with a top-notch e-waste management approach, it helps to know the danger posed by poor practices. One of the top risks for businesses is the exposure of confidential company information.

“If a recycler does not properly remove data from devices, valuable company and customer data is at risk,” Swenson explains. “Some recyclers will say they responsibly dispose of items in a way that protects your business, but your devices might not be properly erased or end up getting exported illegally, creating risk for your brand.”

Negative environmental impacts are another peril of improper management. Unethical “recyclers” only process higher-value items, while older items that cost money to recycle may be illegally stockpiled, abandoned or exported to countries with no advanced recycling infrastructure. This behavior has led to environmental damage and taxpayer funded clean-ups in both the U.S. and overseas.

Many cities and states have regulations surrounding proper disposal of e-waste, so learn about your local safeguards, and ask your e-waste partner about compliance with those rules.

Ask the Right Questions

Swenson recommends digging into the details of how any potential e-waste partner operates. The effort will pay off in the peace of mind and protection this partner provides.

Ask the following about how the e-waste vendor operates:

1. How’s business?

Find out how long potential partners have been operating and what types of companies they serve. Speak with references to determine their quality of service and reputation.

“I’ve seen many recyclers go out of business because of fluctuations in the recycled commodities markets,” Swenson says. “The best partners have been in business for multiple years, have been growing and have strong relationships with downstream refineries and longer-term customers.”

2. Are you certified?

Swenson recommends looking for an e-Stewards-certified recycler, as this certification is the most rigorous in the industry. It ensures your information and the environment will be protected, going well beyond regulatory requirements.

3. What is your process?

A view into the steps a partner takes will help you separate the good from the less-reputable partners. Ask for a description of each part of the process, and find out if you can visit their facility to get a closer look. A partner who is transparent about their process and downstream suppliers and willing to let you visit is likely a better bet.

4. Do you track devices?

If your items have asset tags, make sure a potential partner can provide certificates of destruction or recycling with the asset tag information on it. These certificates confirm that your items have been responsibly recycled so you can properly account for in-use and retired devices across your business.

5. What services do you provide?

A good e-waste partner will work with you to make the responsible disposal process convenient. For example, Swenson suggests looking for recyclers that will come to your office with a truck to pick up large volumes of old tech items or support a mail-back program. Also, look for a partner that allows you to easily request recycling at multiple locations if your business has more than one office or facility.

Once you settle on a partner, ask them for advice about how to best prepare any technology for the hand-off. Creating asset tags for each device and removing data from some devices helps your partner provide maximum protection.

With a responsible partner in place, you can also promote your environmental commitment to prospects and customers. Green practices may encourage people to buy from you or remain loyal, since shoppers are increasingly committed to purchasing from environmentally focused companies.