What Is Circular Economy And Why Does It Matter For E-Waste?

A circular economy aims to reduce trash, carbon emissions, and pollution of the water and soil. If you think about a circle, it never ends. The same is true of the circular economy. This economic model focuses on manufacturing, use, recycling, reuse/refurbishing, and remanufacturing. It ends the linear economy model where items are made, used, and trashed.

How does it work? It’s pretty simple. At heart, manufacturers reuse materials from prior products. Consumers properly recycle their electronics and purchase electronics made with recycled materials. It stops metal, glass, and plastic from electronics from reaching landfills where they need hundreds of years to break down, all the while threatening to poison the groundwater and soil.

Imagine the laptop you buy for your employees. They use them for years, but they eventually slow down. These laptops no longer meet your current needs. They take too long to boot, and employees can no longer update some of the drivers. Maybe, in the middle of a work task, they freeze up and require rebooting. It’s happening too often, and it’s slowing your work productivity because of it. It’s time for new laptops. You gather the old ones and arrange to have them recycled by an IT and electronics asset disposition (ITAD) provider.

What happens behind the scenes is all part of the circular economy. At the ITAD facility, the laptops are assessed. Data is wiped to remove any personal information. They’re evaluated for reuse. If it’s something that technicians can fix so that another person can use it, steps to refurbish it for resale occurs. If there are valuable parts, they’re set aside to help improve other items. If it’s genuinely outdated and of no value to anyone, the laptops are shredded. Materials like glass, plastic, and metal are sorted, and those materials are melted down and used again by manufacturers to make new items.

The Hard Facts About E-Waste

Here’s the scary part. According to Statista, people properly recycled only 1.2 million metric tons of e-waste in the U.S. during 2019. The U.S. was sadly behind countries like Asia that recycled 2.9 million metric tons, or Europe that recycled 5.1 million metric tons. Even with Europe in the lead, it’s barely a dent in the approximately 48.6 million metric tons of electronic waste generated worldwide.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that about 75% of all end-of-life electronics were being recycled. The rest of the e-waste was ending up in landfills. This led to President Obama creating a task force to develop a plan to manage electronics better. The National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship plan came out in 2011 with the hopes of pushing for greener designs and a reduction in e-waste.

To further these goals, President Obama signed the executive order “Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade” in 2015. It was designed to offer incentives to companies creating environmentally-friendly electronics, cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, and reduce the amount of e-waste going to other countries within 10 years. However, President Trump took office in 2018 and revoked Obama’s executive order with new goals of having each agency do its best at cutting costs and reducing waste. This new act didn’t give specific goals to meet. Neither pushed for nationwide rules on recycling e-waste and following a circular economy.

Cell phones, computers, and other electronics contain many metals. They contain gold, silver, copper, and palladium. Nickel, steel, and aluminum are also found in laptops and other electronics. All of that can be reused to make other items. Electronics also contain dangerous heavy metals like lead. If you don’t recycle them, that lead can end up in the soil and groundwater where it affects everyone’s health in the years to come.

That’s just one of the problems. You also have the rechargeable and lithium batteries that people often throw into the trash. When that happens, it can start a fire. The battery is crushed by the garbage truck’s compressor, igniting any paper trash that’s also in the truck. You may have seen news articles about garbage truck drivers having to dump their load in the middle of a road due to a fire started by improper battery disposal.

Why aren’t more Americans recycling their electronics? Many states do not have laws enforcing it. Only 25 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws requiring the recycling of electronics. States like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Nevada are among those with no regulations. Even worse, only 19 states expressly ban people from disposing of their electronics in landfills.

A Step-by-Step Look at E-Waste Recycling

How does e-waste recycling work? The first step involves gathering them. Make sure you haven’t tucked anything into the back of a closet where it sits collecting dust. Use a company like ERI to recycle your electronics. You can arrange to have data destroyed on-site in your business or off-site and shipped to one of ERI’s facilities for processing. If you opt to ship your electronics, real-time tracking allows you to keep track of the progress as soon as the crate or box leaves your office.

In an ERI facility, the electronic item is assessed. If there is value to that item, it can be refurbished, enabling you to recoup some of the value. Items may have viable parts that can be removed and used to refurbish other items. If there is no life left in the phone, tablet, printer, etc., it heads to a shredder. There, the device is chopped into small pieces.

The pieces are sorted into glass, metal, or plastic. Those goods are sent to factories, where they’re melted down for reuse. The recycled metal can be used to make new wiring, circuit boards, etc. for new laptops. Plastic pellets can go to companies that extrude or mold them into new laptops or phone cases. Glass can be reused to make new screens. It reduces the amount of new glass, plastic, and metal that must be mined or produced.

While many states have no laws, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. It’s possible to recycle your e-waste and purchase items made from recycled electronics. If everyone does their part and embraces a circular economy, the impact will benefit the earth.

It Starts With You

A circular economy starts with you. Make sure you recycle your electronics with a reputable electronics recycling company. Look for one that is certified in e-Stewards, NAID, and R2. This ensures that the laptops, cellphones, etc. are never sent to another country for processing. You want to make sure your electronics are correctly wiped, refurbished, and recycled.

ERI is a leader in ITAD. To make it easy to recycle, refurbish, and reuse, drop-off bins are found in many U.S. cities. You can order boxes and crates and recycle your electronics without having to find a recycling center that accepts e-waste. ERI also partners with Staples with prepaid recycling boxes and promises 100% data destruction following the U.S. DOD and National Institute of Standards and Technology standards.

 

We offer several tiers of data destruction, so even companies with strict rules to follow don’t have to worry. If you’re upgrading all of the equipment in your medical office, we can destroy the data correctly and provide you with the documentation as proof.