E-Waste: Always a Problem
Organizations should create policies focused on what to do with electronic devices when they reach end of life and how to dispose of them.
By: Gary Audin
IT assets can include servers and storage devices, but also computers, tablets, cameras, and even our phones. When these assets are discarded, it’s called e-waste.
What Is E-Waste?
E-waste is the term applied to consumer and business electronic equipment that is near or at the end of its useful life. There is no clear definition for what is included in e-waste. There are many household appliances that may be considered e-waste by some, but not by others. Business e-waste includes:
Computers, scanners, servers, storage systems, routers, switches, smartphones, tablets
Cameras and media players
Printers, monitors, external hard drives, FAX machines
IoT endpoint devices
Disposing of Electronic Devices
When your electronic devices are being replaced or coming to the end of their life, you have several options:
Throw away devices without regard to disposal regulations, environmental impact, or security problems you create
Give away still-functional electronic devices to someone who could use them or to a charitable organization
Recycle devices through refurbishment and maintenance to extend their life for you or for someone else who may want to purchase them
Dispose of devices through a disposal service
Destroying the devices may solve your security issues, but you still have to dispose of them in a manner that is compliant with regulations for disposal. There are disposal services that will take care of all the issues. These services providers may destroy devices or refurbish them and recycle them. They can also take care of security issues around having sensitive information stored on the devices.
Did You Just Give Away Data?
Information stored on IT devices can lead to the loss of other sensitive business information, as data elements are often linked together. A company’s reputation can be damaged. Repairing that reputation can be very costly, time-consuming, and may not even be possible. A vendor could lose intellectual property information, which in turn could cause severe revenue damage.
Data Security Issues
The National Cyber security and Communications Integration Center’s (NCCIC) mission is to reduce the risk of systemic cyber security and communications challenges. It recently released a security tip that pertains to the proper disposal of electronic devices. NCCIC, as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the national hub for cyber and communications information, technical expertise, and operational integration.
This tip recommends methods to:
• Backup data
• Delete data from any device that stores data locally
• Overwrite data
• Destroy data with degaussers, solid state, CD, and DVD
For more information on this, access the “NIST Special Publication 800-88 Guidelines for Media Sanitization.”
In the U.S., there are federal and state requirements for disposing of e-waste. More than two dozen states currently have legislation that dictates how to dispose of or recycle e-waste. In Texas, disposing of a PC with eight different kinds of hazardous metals can cost thousands of dollars per unit per metal. The poor disposal of one PC could cost well over $10,000 in fines. There are regulations for some industries in the U.S., including healthcare and financial services, that require compliance for e-waste.
The UN report ”The Global E-waste Monitor 2017” states that the U.S. produces about 14%, or 6.3 million tons, of the world’s electronic waste. Globally, there was about 45 million tons of electronics disposed in 2016. It was estimated that only 20% was recycled in some shape or form. The remaining 80% ended up in landfills, creating environment damage.
The Forbes article titled, “Recycling Is Not The Answer To The E-Waste Crisis” contends that recycling is outpaced by the continued production of new electronic devices. “We are currently losing ground in the battle to reduce the environmental impact of our electronic equipment,” Forbes contributor Vianney Vaute wrote.
The article goes on to conclude that recycling should not be used as a cover-up of the e-waste pollution model. Recycling is useful, however, there is a real need to recognize the limitations of electronics recycling and to look hard at the root of our growing e-waste problem in order to develop more effective approaches.
Reuse, refurbishment, and maintenance are even more important than recycling. Extending the life of the devices currently in existence can have a meaningful effect on their environmental impact. Producing products that are easy to repair improves the probability of reuse. Buying refurbished electronics instead of new devices is another solution. For more information and guidance, visit the EPA website “Electronics Donation and Recycling.”
You may consider your effort in disposing of electronic devices to be a small part of the problem. But if everyone assumes that position, the problem will be greater. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes regulations to force people to follow the best policies. Complying with the regulations is cheaper than ignoring them. You should create a policy within your organization that focuses on what you do with electronic devices and how you dispose of them.