Every day, millions of electronic products are produced and stocked on shelves. The old products are constantly making way for the new and improved ones, but where do all of those outdated products end up? All of that electronic waste has to go somewhere, and if you’re a business, where and how you dispose of your e-waste matters a great deal.
What Is Electronic Waste and Why Does It Matter?
Electronic waste, otherwise known as e-waste or e-scrap, can be any kind of electronic product that is intended for disposal. E-waste can include things like TVs, computers, cellphones, appliances, and even refrigerators. Some items like smoke detectors are technically e-waste, but they may have their own disposal category that is more specific.
Because many of the materials inside of electronic products are toxic and fall into the characteristic hazardous waste category, e-waste usually cannot be discarded with your business’s municipal solid waste. Materials like lead, chromium, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants all regularly make appearances in common electronic products, and they can cause harm to people and the environment when not disposed of correctly.
How Do I Dispose of E-Waste?
Abiding By the Law
Because of its hazardous components, e-waste is subject to the EPA’s RCRA laws. The majority of states are authorized to implement the laws of the RCRA and create further legislation that is at least as stringent as that on the federal level. Thus, states will often have different laws regarding the handling of commercial e-waste. If you are hiring a waste management company to handle the entire disposal process or if you are attempting to do most of it on your own, you must ensure that state laws, in addition to federal ones, are being followed.
Type of Generator
Your company’s generator status can influence the hazardous waste management process. For example, if your company is a Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG) that generates 100 kg or less of hazardous waste per month or less than one kg of acutely hazardous waste, you are not subject to some of the RCRA’s hazardous waste laws. For more information on your generator status, view the EPA’s categories of hazardous waste generators and consult the Code of Federal Regulations for exact regulations based on generator type.
Whether or not your business is subject to all RCRA regulations, you still need to get rid of the e-waste. This is the general process, but be aware that details will change based on your state’s laws, your generator status, and the type of e-waste you have.
Removal of sensitive information
If your e-waste is the type that can store sensitive information, such as a computer hard drive or even a corporate printer, the first step is to wipe all sensitive data. This may be done by you or by your waste management company. If this is being completed by a waste management company, you should receive some certification of the clearing process.
If your e-waste can be further broken down, this is the next step. Throughout the breakdown process, waste managers should be mindful of the hazardous components and how they may contaminate cleaning solvents as well.
Components that can be recycled should be. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently 25 states (plus the District of Columbia) with e-waste recycling programs.
After all pieces that can be recycled have been, e-waste may be disposed.