OPINION: Establish an electronic waste handling program now

Dispatch from the SSC Team

A step ahead of Johnny Law: Establish an electronic waste handling program now

You may already do business in one of the 22 states with an electronic waste law in force, but many of these electronic waste recycling laws regulate manufacturer behavior and may not directly affect your company’s day-to-day operations. Further, your state might not even have an “e-waste” recycling law at all.

However, ensuring that you are properly recycling your organization’s e-waste, a waste stream made up of computers, computer components, office equipment, and televisions that comprises 70% of the nation’s toxic trash, is definitely “the right thing to do” as part of your sustainability strategy.  Any progress you make to reduce your waste stream will help reduce your impact on the environment and shrink your carbon footprint.

Additionally, as legislation progresses, newer laws may make it entirely illegal to take e-waste to landfill, so establishing an e-waste handling program now, and well before the folks in the statehouse start telling you what to do, may save you time and headache later when the rules change

Hey, Pennsylvanians, we’re talking about you!

On June 16, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved Bill 708, a bill designed to mandate the recycling of televisions and other electronic equipment across the state. If the bill passes in the Senate, Pennsylvania will become the 23rd state to have an e-waste recycling law on the books.

Here’s what the Pennsylvania law will require:

  • Companies that manufacture computer and television equipment must establish and manage recycling services for recycling electronics that are sold in the state.
  • Retailers must educate customers on how to recycle e-waste.
  • Citizens and organizations will not be able to dispose of e-waste in landfills.     

This and most other state laws put the onus on the manufacturers of electronic equipment – requiring the manufacturers to capture and recycle a certain percentage of goods based on pounds of new equipment sold in the state, or fines will ensue.

We applaud Pennsylvania’s proposed law for going beyond what other state laws have done (even though it might not be voted through with all of these provisions in place) through the added elements of consumer education and a landfill ban.  These provisions make sense in terms of a strong, lasting sustainability strategy.

Getting ahead of the game to help your business

If Pennsylvania, as the potential 23rd state to add this legislation, is putting landfill bans on e-waste, it seems reasonable to assume that other states with e-cycling laws in place may add bans as well. The same can be said for the educational component.

So, instead of waiting around for the government to make a new rule of change the rules you’re operating under, why not establish a progressive e-cycling policy, and then use it to your advantage.

First, if you are retailing new or used electronic equipment, you should develop your own e-cycling educational program now. A creative consumer-oriented e-cycling program can be good for both your sustainability report and your marketing strategy. 

For example, create a well-designed flyer or sticker with e-cycling information and your business information on it and distribute it with products sent to your customers. Or host a community e-cycling event in partnership with a local recycler. You could also create a low-cost/no-cost take-back program for your community, or just be a point of reference if customers need information about local e-cycling regulations and opportunities.

As an electronics retailer, make yourself the go-to business for customer questions on e-cycling before it becomes the hot topic, so when it does, you’re the first one people think to call. And don’t forget to track every piece of equipment you’ve helped recycle so you can include it in your sustainability report.

Second, if you’ve done a sustainability report before, you may already know all about waste auditing and waste tracking, and you’re probably already e-cycling. But if you’re just beginning to “go green,” e-cycling is a great first-step project.

For example, one of the best ways to e-cycle is to donate used equipment in working condition to thrift stores or other community organizations (youth groups, Boys and Girls clubs, elder care homes, etc.). If you are an employee looking for a way to start a grassroots movement within your organization or a manager looking for a great employee-led volunteer project, an “E-furbishment and Donation” program might be a great way to get rid of those old PCs.

How to start: 

  1. Get permission from management to donate old working equipment to a charitable cause.
  2. Make sure the equipment is properly readied for distribution (old files erased, licensed programs removed, etc.; For more information on this, contact your IT department or visit the National Center for Electronics Recycling’s web site listed at the bottom of this page).
  3. Contact a local organization to arrange delivery
  4. Seek volunteers to help clean and ready equipment
  5. Arrange a volunteer team to deliver, set up, and train the recipients on how to use the new goods.

If grassroots volunteer programs don’t appeal to you or your stuff isn’t in working condition, a simple, straightforward call to a local recycler to haul off your junk is the best alternative. Yes, this will probably cost you money, but it is the right thing to do. And you might as well build it into your budget now as the cookie might begin to crumble toward mandatory recycling in the future anyway.

To find local e-waste recyclers in your area, visit www.mygreenelectronics.org, www.eiae.org, earth911.org/electronics/. The National Center for Electronics Recycling has additional information about manufacturer recycling programs, individual state e-cycling laws, mobile phone recycling, and more on its site at www.electronicsrecycling.org.

Strategic Sustainability Consulting's recorded Webinar: How to Conduct a Waste Audit (along with 7 other spreadsheets, tools, templates, and reports) will take you through the steps of a do-it-yourself waste audit. Designed for employees working in organizations "going green", it is a one-stop shop for measuring your office waste and creating a waste reduction plan.

If you want to go further in depth about what you are tossing out that may either be harmful to the environment or harmful to your bottom line, feel free to contact SSC about setting up a waste audit.