E-waste, or electronic waste, refers to electronic products that have become obsolete, have reached their useful life, or have outlived their purpose. The rise of computers, consumer electronics, and other goods categorized as electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) has highlighted the interconnected issues of production, sales, consumption, and disposal of these products on a global level.
According to the Global E-waste Monitor, the world produced 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste in 2016, and this is projected to rise to 52.2 million metric tons in 2021. Based on these statistics, the United States has a growing e-waste problem.
|US E-waste by the Year (2010 to 2016)|
|Disposed of 2,440,000 tons (or 384,000,000 units), which included those that have been trashed and recycled in 2010 [Electronics TakeBack Coalition]|
|Generated 3,400,000 tons, including 1 million tons recycled in 2012 [Electronics TakeBack Coalition]|
|Generated 5,900 kilotons (or 5.9 million metric tons) in 2014 [The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership]|
|Generated 6,110 kilotons (or 6.1 million metric tons) in 2015 [The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership]|
|Generated 6,295 kilotons (or 6.3 million metric tons) in 2016 [The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership]|
This waste goes beyond national boundaries. A 2015 post from Stanford Law School Blogs points out that it takes $20 to safely dispose of a computer in the US, versus unsafe disposal in India for $2. The post goes on to say that this scenario created a market for exporting e-waste to developing countries. Such primitive techniques of disposal can expose people to hazardous substances.
Interpol’s Pollution Crime Working Group has looked into illegal hazardous waste disposal and illegal import/export of waste in a 2009 report. In 2017, Interpol discovered more than 1.5 million metric tons of illegal waste in a 30-day operation that involved 43 countries.
Against this backdrop, the US, on the state and federal levels through the Environmental Protection Agency, has laws, regulations, and initiatives for the proper recycling or disposal of solid waste, including EEE. Some of these policies or programs may have been anchored on international conventions and agreements on responsible and sustainable waste management.
Businesses, big or small, have a role in recycling electronics to comply with relevant laws, gain public trust (when recognized as a “green” company), and help create a better world for all.
This commercial e-waste recycling guide informs small businesses about what’s recyclable or not, what laws are in place, how they can recycle, and what laws protect and secure their data upon disposal or destruction of their old computer units.
What Can Be Recycled?
States in the US vary on which electronic devices are covered under their respective environmental-waste or e-waste recycling laws.
By way of example, the state of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has outlined the following products for individuals, businesses, and other entities to recycle.
a. Cathode-Ray Tubes (CRTs)
- All-in-one computers or PCs, such as Apple’s iMac
- Desktop computers
- Laptop computers
- Tablet computers
- Thin clients or computers that connect to servers and are used in cloud computing
- Workstations or specialized computers with technical or scientific capabilities
- E-book readers
- Interactive flat-panel displays that have integrated processors usually found in education and corporate settings
- Stand-alone virtuality reality headsets that have built-in processors
c. Computer Peripherals
These devices must be used alongside a computer and weigh less than 100 pounds, in the case of 3-D printers, document scanners, fax machines, label printer, and printer:
- 3-D printers
- Document scanners
- Electronic keyboards
- Electronic mice or related pointing devices
- Facsimile machines
- Label printers used for stickers and other self-adhering material
- Monitors with a display size of more than four inches, as measured diagonally
d. Small Electronic Equipment
Cords, cables, or wires that go with the following devices are included:
- Cable boxes or satellite receivers
- Digital converter boxes
- Digital video recorders (DVRs)
- Digital video disk players (DVD players)
- Videocassette recorders (VCRs)
- Electronic, handheld video game consoles used with a monitor, television, or a video display device
- Portable digital music players that have memory capability
- Projectors that have built-in DVD players
e. Small-Scale Server
The NYSDEC defines it as a “designed in a desktop or similar form factor and capable of supporting only a single processor.”
f. Television Sets
These are units that have a display screen of more than four inches, measured diagonally.
Electronics You Can’t Recycle
This following list is from the NYSDEC. Please refer to your respective state agency or e-waste recycling program for a complete list of electronics that you may or may not recycle.
- Cameras or video camera
- Cash registers
- Commercial medical equipment containing cathode-ray tube
- Digital picture frames
- External drives that have storage function only
- Flat-panel displays
- Handheld transceivers
- HDMI switches that provide multiple HDMI input ports
- Household appliances
- Lighting ballasts with circuit boards
- Monitoring systems
- Motor vehicle or their parts
- Navigation devices
- Portable digital assistants (PDAs)
- Portable or stationary radios
- Portable wand scanners for documents used in libraries, etc.
- Security equipment
- Smart speakers, which are wireless devices with voice command
- RFID tags
- Temperature-monitoring devices
- UPS batteries
Corporate E-waste Recycling and Disposal Regulations
Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have statewide electronics recycling laws. Such legislation usually takes on two approaches for e-waste disposal, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
1. Extended producer responsibility: manufacturers pay to collect and recycle the covered products with examples above
2. Advanced recycling fee: the consumers pay a fee at the time of purchase, and fees collected go to the state’s recycling program or fund, as in the case of California
Click to learn the relevant e-waste recycling laws in your area:
- District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) authorizes the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate or control hazardous waste and solid waste from the cradle to the grave, that is, from the generation to the disposal of the waste.
- The act aims to reduce waste and conserve resources by way of recycling and other sanctioned methods.
- EPA introduced changes to the RCRA concerning CRTs by encouraging the recycling and reuse of used CRTs and CRT glass and clarifying the definition of CRT exporter for exporting CRTs for reuse and recycle.
- The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act forbids the use of mercury batteries and sets mechanisms for the recycling or disposal of nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries.
- The National Strategy for Electronic Stewardship (NSES) aims to, among other things, incentivize the design of environmentally preferable electronics and enhance electronic waste management and handling in the US.
Any company that exports or sells EEE in the EU are required to follow relevant policies on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE):
- The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (Directive 2012/19/EU) sets forth the guidelines for the manufacturers’ collection and handling of WEEE.
- The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (Directive 2011/65/EU) governs the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other hazardous substances in EEE.
In 2018, the United Nations created the UN E-waste Coalition to address the e-waste challenge, which is projected to reach 120 million tons per year by 2050 if left unchecked. Three years before that, the UN member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including responsible consumption and production.
The US remains a nonparty (it can join meetings but can’t vote) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal in 1990.
International E-waste Management Network
The US EPA has collaborated with its agency counterpart in Taiwan to share best practices on the matter and promote the UN’s SDG and Agenda 2030.
How Can a Business Handle E-waste Responsibly?
Here are e-waste recycling and disposal options for small businesses:
EPA-certified electronics recyclers
Find a certified electronic recycler for your business’s unwanted and used electronic products. These recyclers have undergone accreditation under Responsible Recycling and e-Stewards standards and have proven their capability to manage used electronics safely.
Coordinate with your city or local government for any recycling events for old computers and electronics. These events are generally free for residents or businesses in the area.
Manufacturer return or retailer pickup
Some manufacturers and retailers offer to take back their products as part of a corporate program or in partnership with local government units. Examples are Best Buy, which accepts computers and certain items for free from households only, and Dell, which allows recycling of used EEE from individuals and businesses via trade-in, drop-off, or mail-back.
Donations and charities
Coordinate with schools, charitable institutions, and not-for-profit organizations to donate your unwanted office equipment, like printers and scanners. Your small business’s charitable contribution may qualify as tax-deductible.
Your business phones, servers, and desktop monitors may still be valuable to others. Sell them to companies that buy used hardware and refurbish/recondition these units. In a way, your company helps create jobs and boost the secondary market for EEE.
EPA’s E-waste Challenges
Apply to any of these EPA programs to promote e-waste recycling:
- WasteWise: Businesses and organizations are encouraged to reduce waste, reuse materials, and adopt sustainable practices for managing and handling waste.
- Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge: Brand owners, electronics manufacturers, and retailers are challenged to send all the used electronics they collected to certified electronics refurbishers and recyclers.
When you dispose of your office equipment, you need to take the proper steps to protect and dispose of data stored in those devices in light with the following rules and regulations.
- Data security laws by state require private sector entities that handle personal information to establish measures to prevent unauthorized access or breach of personal information.
- Data disposal laws by state direct private or public entities to properly destroy or make data unreadable and unusable. If you deal with consumer reports, check the Federal Trade Commission’s Disposal Rule and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for protected health information.
For more information on the destruction and disposal of information, refer to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Special Publication 800-88 and the Department of Defense’s Directive 5220.22-Manual.
Be part of the solution to e-waste—recycle your unwanted office equipment. Contact the manufacturer or retailer of your business phone, networking devices, and the like for relevant return or recycling programs.
Have Equipment to Resell? We Also Refurbish
We have been providing telecommunications and networking devices for a long time, having seen the glory days of dial-up connection to the present mobile revolution. We have also seen the comings and goings of equipment that may have been rendered obsolete, reached their useful life span, or retired.
While we continue to specialize in new office equipment for small businesses and large enterprises, we also work with refurbishing electronics. We carry select refurbished pieces, such as printers and routers, in our inventory.
Let us know if you have office phones, printers, and other devices to dispose of; we will be glad to help and make an offer.
Electronic Waste Recycling and Related Resources
- Electronic Waste and Organized Crimes
- Comments: Electronic Manufacturers’ Coalition for Responsible Recycling
- Comments: Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition