“Reduce, reuse and recycle” is known as the waste hierarchy. The terms designate three essential components of environmentally-responsible behaviour and are listed in the order of preferred action from least harmful to most harmful for the environment.
While reducing is obviously environmentally friendly, it is not always possible. In the case of electronics, for example, consumers tend to have one smartphone, one laptop and one printer, and reducing that number is not usually an option. This leaves reuse and recycling and both have a role to play in a healthy recycling hierarchy, according to Gary Diamond, CEO of The Shift Recycling Groups of Companies.
The Pros and Cons of Reuse
Reusing electronics is better for the environment as compared to recycling, because the reuse process consumes fewer natural resources. Electronics reuse is possible at two levels:
- Reuse outside the waste stream by repairing a damaged item and reselling to function as it was originally intended. Example: Whole smartphone.
- Reuse within the waste stream, in which the individual components are harvested for reuse in other products. Example: RAM or video card.
The one caveat with reusing electronics is the risk of data security if there is any sensitive data left on the device when it’s handed over to the recycler or sold/donated to someone else. If the item has sensitive data, you will need to either wipe the data clean or find a reputable and certified vendor who will do this before processing the asset for reuse. A reputable organization like Revolution Recycling has systems in place to securely wipe data from every device being considered for resale.
Data security is important because hard drives that are not properly erased before a computer is disposed of can be used to extract sensitive information such as credit card numbers, financial data, account information and transaction records. Horror stories include the discovery of multimillion-dollar U.S. security agreements on hard drives in the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump in Accra, Ghana.
Stolen data can have two victims: the person whose data was stolen and the company whose reputation is harmed by not making sure data was securely wiped before disposing of assets.
The Biggest Misconception about Reuse
Gary Diamond is concerned about apprehension around reuse of electronics due to data security issues. He says people are worried largely because of misinformation about how to fully wipe a device clean. This view is amplified by unscrupulous recyclers who instill fear by telling consumers and businesses that the only way to fully protect themselves from identity theft is to destroy electronics.
This is not true. Destroying the asset is not the best thing for the environment or your bottom line,” he explains. “When a data-bearing asset is taken to a certified, reputable recycler for reuse, there are zero problems with security. The problem comes with not understanding the process of how to do this properly or in not selecting an appropriate recycler.”
He adds that the process of ensuring data security is called Information Technology Asset Disposition (ITAD). This refers to the entire chain of securely reusing or recycling an electronic item and covers a checklist from delivery to the vendor through to final disposal of any remaining components from the reuse or recycling process.
What Should I Look for in a Recycler?
The best way to avoid any undesirable issues in the reuse or recycling process is to deal with a reputable recycler who is certified. By choosing this route, a consumer or business will also avoid the problem of an unscrupulous recycler who promises to recycle your item but instead ships it off to someone else who may steal the data or sell it for reuse without properly wiping the data.
Specifically, look for a recycler who…
- is certified to at least an R2 standard with ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 designations. This means they must follow a specific, audited system for reuse/recycling that also guarantees they are actually destroying data or the item itself if the wipe fails.
- has a process for reuse including signed consent.
- will give you a tour of their facilities. If they won’t show you, think about what they might be hiding.
While reuse is more environmentally friendly than recycling and should always be considered ahead of recycling when possible, a reputable recycler such as Revolution will make everything easier no matter your choice. Call today to discuss your reuse or recycling plans.