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Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Tech Recycling Trends toward eWaste Reuse

Whether or not you consider yourself a tech-savvy individual, you have probably noticed the latest trends of corporate environmental awareness.  It seems like every day another large enterprise company makes a public announcement about their "new green initiative."

Recently, representatives of Apple announced that the company will no longer sell CRT monitors, which contain significant amounts of lead.  Representatives also said that the company has completely eliminated hexavalent chromium and some brominated flame retardants from its products.  Many companies are following suit with similar environmentally based product restrictions.

Shifting Trends for Technology

Technology Goes Green The fact is, not all of these efforts are motivated by pure altruism.  More and more evidence is beginning to surface, indicating that financial benefits can also be realized through socially responsible initiatives.  A recent report by the market research firm Gartner, shows that consumers buying everything from cell phones to network hardware are shifting their buying habits toward the green end of the spectrum.  Environmental factors will become one of the top six buying criteria for forward-moving information technology organizations.  Gartner’s study also produced some very sobering data for the tech-community. 

We are currently in the midst of an ethical revolution designed to preserve our environment and to ultimately secure our future.

Gartner illustrated that the energy from manufacturing, distribution and use of information and communications technology, emits approximately 2% of total global carbon dioxide, a figure equivalent to the emissions produced by the entire airline industry.  These recent findings coupled with the financial benefits of reuse and recycling, create a "one–two punch," and are paving the way for high-tech’s green initiative to ratchet it up a notch.  Gartner predicts that more than fifty percent of global technology organizations will declare an "environmental imperative" by the year 2010.

Some server- and chip-makers already advertise their products’ power-saving credentials.  Environmental groups such as Greenpeace reward these initiatives through token award systems which give companies a "green ranking".  Green rankings publicly highlight exceptional earth-friendly efforts put forth by various computer makers each year.

Traditional business models are designed around the concept of planned obsolescence in which capitalistic technology manufacturers encourage customers to buy the next iteration of their product, even if the existing edition still works.  These traditional models are now coming under fire, as the high rate of turnover for technology appliances is clearly a fast-growing problem around the globe.  The short lifespan of today’s electronic equipment contributes to millions of tons of e-waste, which is then dumped into landfill sites that are often processed in poorly managed facilities in developing countries.  This manner of disposal poses significant health risks and creates a substantial negative impact on the environment.

Recycling TechnologyTechnology Recycling and Recovery

While this information is not provided with the intent to scare you, it serves as evidence that the world around us is changing.  Human beings are a robust species, and historically we have always adjusted our ethics to adapt to our environment for the purpose of survival.  We are currently in the midst of an ethical revolution designed to preserve our environment and to ultimately secure our future.  Historically, most ethical revolutions have resulted in more efficient modes of existence by creating more resources and a better quality of life.  Improvement is usually the driving force behind such revolutions, which can be summed up as a collective epiphany or a process of maturation that results in a more efficiently organized planet.

That said, it seems that the days when businesses could send a product into the marketplace without first considering its potential environmental impact are rapidly becoming obsolete.  Global recycling and product recovery programs, by which businesses take responsibility for what they make and sell, are already underway worldwide.  Many well-recognized companies have introduced programs where consumers can receive credit towards a new hardware purchase by trading in old equipment.

Technology Reuse

This leads to our tenet point: "Reuse!"  Get used to that word, as the principle is establishing itself as the new standard operating procedure of the green revolution.  The government is setting an example of reuse through its Federal Management Regulations (41 CFR 102).  These regulations mandate that federal agencies (to the fullest extent practicable), use excess personal property, including electronic equipment, as the first source of supply in meeting agency requirements.  Based on these regulations, the new hierarchy of eco-friendly guidelines for managing end-of-life electronics is shown below, from most preferable to least preferable:

  • Reuse
  • Refurbishment
  • Recycling
  • Incineration or Landfilling

Consistent with the hierarchy presented above, secondary consumer markets for recycling and reuse of electronic equipment are growing at an unprecedented rate.  According to Gartner, one in every dozen computers used worldwide is a "secondary computer," and about 152.5 million used systems were shipped in 2004.  Gartner’s research also reveals that both the home and professional markets for secondary PCs will continue to see growth in the next several years, fueled by better computer performance, longer system life, and recent recycling legislation that gives companies a greater incentive to sell their used machines.

Consumers are gradually becoming aware of the benefits of buying used.  Refurbished computers often come standard with a warranty starting at one year and going up from there, depending on the dealer.  The generous warranty periods have removed virtually all risk formerly associated with buying used.  Buying used allows consumers to take advantage of solid warranties while providing new life for old gear at great savings—up to 95% off of listed prices. 

Whether you’re an IT manager, global CEO, or a home PC user, the implications are the same—e-waste is a problem, corporate social responsibility is real!  Although we are taking some steps in the right direction, a lot more needs to be considered.  As the tech-world becomes increasingly aware of its environmental impact, we can help in efforts to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions by considering the secondary market as a viable alternative to purchasing new electronic equipment.

Article Contributors: Josh Levitt

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