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E-Waste Is Not a Dirty Word

Monday, July 12, 2010
Dispose of Unwanted Electronics The Eco-Friendly Way

By Mollie Neal

After being in business just a few years, it’s inevitable that you’ll accumulate a heap of broken or outdated office equipment. Fax machines, computers, printers, copiers and other assorted electronic waste ends up piled in a closet, a storage room, or, worse yet, disposed of in landfills.


Dumping electronic-waste, or e-waste, is bad for the environment and is now banned in many communities. E-waste contains toxins and hazardous materials that seep into the water, soil and air, and take hundreds of years to decompose.


In 1998, the National Safety Council Study estimated about 20 million computers became obsolete in one year.That number has more than doubled, reports the Environmental Protection Agency. Of the 2.25 million tons of TVs, cell phones and computer products ready for end-of-life management, 82 percent were disposed of primarily in landfills in the U.S. and abroad.

So what are you supposed to do with all that stuff? Fortunately, there are an increasing number of eco-friendly ways to dispose of this waste without hurting the environment.


Donate It


Paying forward gently used, operational computers, printers, scanners and fax machines extends the lives of valuable products, keeps them out of the waste stream, and can benefit groups that can’t afford to purchase new equipment. Local schools, churches and nonprofits like the Salvation Army or Goodwill often welcome donations.

Around 100 million cell phones and PDAs become obsolete each year, but a meager 10 percent are recycled, reports Earth911, an environmental services specialist in Scottsdale, Ariz. If you’re like most people, you’ve amassed cell phones by replacing broken models or upgrading for more bells and whistles. Your trash could be someone else’s treasure.


For example, Cell Phones for Soldiers uses income earned from recycling old phones to purchase calling cards for troops overseas so they can talk with loved ones at home. Likewise, the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program donates refurbished phones loaded with calling minutes to women in shelters and contributes recycling proceeds to domestic violence prevention programs. Donating to such causes is typically as easy as visiting the group’s website, downloading a pre-printed shipping label and sending off your old phone.


If you’re not sure where to donate, websites like Freecycle.org and Earth911.com can help you find organizations in need. And remember, if you donate items to a qualified nonprofit organization you get the extra benefit of a tax deduction.


Recycle It

If the office equipment is broken, consider recycling.

E-waste contains substances such as metals, glass and plastics. Professional recyclers separate the components for parts that can be reused or sold to manufacture new goods, and then safely dispose of the remains. Some will even come to your business and clear out your castaways.


The easiest place to start is by calling your local town hall or garbage collection provider to learn if they host free recycling days or have a special drop-off location.


A number of national companies, like Ecycling.com, are also willing to pick up and safely recycle the waste.


Turn Trash Into Cash

Fortunately, it’s getting easier to keep your old electronics out of landfills, and you may even get some cash in return.


Best Buy, Staples and other superstores will take most electronics, including TVs, DVD players, computer monitors, cell phones and audio and video cables. The fees range from free to a nominal $10 fee for recycling. Sometimes you can even receive a store gift card for gently used trade-ins.


Many office equipment manufacturers are helping the environment with eco-friendly recycling programs of their own, including Apple, Leveno, Acer, Canon and others. Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, for example, have numerous programs in which you can ship used equipment in for recycling, regardless of the manufacturer. Or, you can trade it in and earn cash or a credit towards a future purchase based on the fair market value of the device.


Online services such as BuyMyTronics.com and CellForCash.com also recycle or refurbish a wide assortment of old technology. In return, they’ll send you a check, gift card or deposit your money in a PayPal account.


Shop around for the best prices by using their online value estimators and look for a provider that offers postage-paid shipping packages.


Others, such as MyBoneYard.com and YouRenew.com also give you the option of donating the money to a charity of your choosing.

Don’t forget those pesky ink cartridges. You can earn a few cents to a few dollars apiece in cash-back rewards by returning them to Staples or websites like TonerBuyer.com or freerecycling.com. Some retailers like Walgreens and Cartridge World will save you a few bucks by refilling empty cartridges for less than the cost of purchasing new ones.


Many individuals purchase broken and outdated electronics from online sites like eBay and Craigslist for their parts or

to refurbish and resell to others.


Get Employees And Customers Involved


If you generate a stack of e-waste, the odds are good that your employees or even your customers do, too.


In 2004, Mark Caserta opened his two eco-friendly home decor and lifestyle stores, 3R Living, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Maplewood, N.J. He also set up in-store recycling bins so employees and customers had a convenient spot to drop off cell phones, laptops, batteries and CDs.


“Beyond selling products we wanted to do more to help the planet and give back to the community, and hopefully draw people into the store to use the service who would then return to shop,” says Caserta.


Caserta works with economic development programs in foreign countries and various recyclers, some of which donate working or refurbished items to women’s shelters. He says the experience has been personally rewarding, and his customers appreciate his efforts to help others and protect the planet.


If you like the idea of combining environmental responsibility and philanthropy, consider holding an in-office recycling event. Businesses like Project KOPEG will have UPS pick up the items at no charge and will donate the recycling proceeds to the charity of your choice.


Make A Clean Sweep


Before disposing of your equipment, it’s important to take a few steps to make sure private data can’t be retrieved and misused, says Ilene Rosoff, owner of The Launch Pad, an Odessa, Fla.-based IT service provider for small businesses.


“The information can be used to create false credit scenarios to purchase things and your credit can be damaged,” says Rosoff.

And if business data is acquired and misused, you could be liable.


Fortunately it doesn’t have to be costly or complicated to prevent this from happening. Some professional recyclers will take care of this for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to do it yourself.


Deleting your documents and photos is a good start. However, personal and business data like addresses, passwords, credit card numbers, banking information and online purchase histories may still reside on your hard drive, warns Rosoff. She suggests taking the following steps before disposing of computers and laptops:

  • Transfer all data to another computer or external hard drive.
  • Use an inexpensive software program like Wipe Drive Pro to completely erase the drive.
  • Or simply physically remove the hard drive and bang it up with a hammer so the drive is no longer readable.

For cell phones and PDAs, the EPA recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Terminate your service.
  • Delete all messages, contacts and other stored information.
  • Follow instructions from your wireless carrier or the product manual to conduct a factory hard reset; or use phone data erasing tools that are available on the Web.


So, next time you look at that pile of electronic waste you’ve amassed, don’t consider it a burden. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to donate, sell or safely recycle.

After finishing this article, freelance writer Mollie Neal happily donated and recycled a camera, two cell phones and a laptop computer.


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