Managing E-Waste

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Managing E-Waste

by James G. Barr

Docid: 00021088

Publication Date: 2209

Report Type: TUTORIAL


E-waste (or electronic waste) is a category of waste materials consisting
of discarded computer and communication equipment including servers, PCs,
laptops, tablets, phones, monitors, printers, power supplies, cables, and
all other forms of electronic gear. Often containing hazardous substances,
e-waste poses environmental risks unless properly processed. As generators
of electronic waste, enterprises are responsible for e-waste management
and disposition.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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E-waste (or electronic waste, e-scrap, or end-of-life electronics) is a
category of waste materials consisting of discarded computer and
communication equipment, including servers, PCs, laptops, tablets, phones,
monitors, printers, power supplies, cables, and all other forms of
electronic gear.

Faulkner Reports
Information Lifecycle
Management Strategy Tutorial

As the number and type of electronic devices expand, so does e-waste,
with last-generation phones and obsolete computers often finding their way
to landfills and other unsanctioned – and illegal – repositories – e-waste
“final resting places.”

While the culprits in many cases are consumers, enterprises are often
equally careless – if not knowingly reckless – in their end-of-life
management of aging electronic infrastructure.

According to analyst Catherine Thorbecke, “The most recent United
Nation’s data indicates the world generated a staggering 53.6 million
metric tons of e-waste in 2019, and only 17.4 percent of that was

“The burden and harms of e-waste often fall to those in developing
countries. The US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] estimates that an
‘undetermined amount of used electronics is shipped from the United States
and other developed countries to developing countries that lack the
capacity to reject imports or to handle these materials appropriately.'”1

Figure 1. Typical E-Waste Pile

Figure 1. Typical E-Waste Pile

Source: Wikimedia Commons

E-Waste Problem

E-waste is a problem for environmentally-conscious consumers. Both
electronics manufacturers and local communities encourage citizens to drop
off obsolete phones and computers at authorized recycling centers.

E-waste is also an enterprise problem, especially as:

  • Electronic devices (or devices with electronic components) continue to
    proliferate at an exponential rate.
  • Many jurisdictions have strict laws and regulations regarding e-waste
  • E-waste often contains lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, arsenic, and
    other toxic substances, thereby requiring special handling.
  • E-waste is often composed (at least in part) of valuable elements like
    gold, silver, and copper, which, if fiscally feasible, should be
    harvested and repurposed.

Fortunately, the volume of enterprise e-waste – and, thus, the extent of
the enterprise e-waste problem – can be reduced through informed asset
management and procurement procedures.

E-Waste Drivers

There are several factors contributing to the growth of enterprise
e-waste. Major drivers include:

Rapid Advancements in Computer
– “The relentless pace of technology improvements
has perpetuated a steady flow of obsolescence.”2

Transition From Analog to Digital
– The Digital Transformation – “Commercial businesses are increasingly
embracing electronic equipment as they shift from paperless to digital

Repair and Refurbishment Resistant
– “Many pieces of used electronic equipment remain
difficult to repair or refurbish despite increasing calls from the
recycling industry and a rise in product certification standards.”4

Transition to Energy Efficient
– “One of the major concerns for enterprises
(principally data centers) is to reduce their power consumption from
server equipment. Thus, it becomes highly essential to periodically
replace the existing infrastructure so as to ensure no device performs

Planned Obsolescence of Consumer
– Smartphones, in particular, have a relatively
short “shelf life,” as otherwise functional equipment is sacrificed in the
interest of corporate profits.

The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to efforts designed to extend the
dominion of the Internet from cyber space to the physical world, creating
a network of intelligent devices that form the mechanical equivalent of
the body’s central nervous system. The purpose is twofold: to gather
information about physical processes in order to improve them; and to
exercise real-time control over physical processes in order to affect
greater efficiency and effectiveness. Most alarmingly, the IoT
will produce an exponential increase in enterprise electronics and,
ultimately, enterprise e-waste

Environmental Impact

Improper disposal of e-waste can cause air, water, and soil pollution:

  • Air – While e-waste can be burned to retrieve
    valuable metals such as copper, the process can release cancer-producing
    dioxins into the air.
  • Water – Heavy metals deposited in landfills, such as
    lead, barium, and mercury, can leak into the surrounding soil and,
    eventually, the underlying groundwater.
  • Soil – When soil is contaminated by heavy metals, the
    crops and the food they provide are also contaminated.6

E-Waste Management

For enterprise officials, the goals of e-waste management are:

  1. Reduce the total volume of e-waste by prolonging the life of
    electronic equipment.
  2. Dispose of e-waste in an environmentally-responsible manner.
  3. Prior to disposal, scrub e-waste of all enterprise data, thus
    preserving enterprise data security and privacy.
  4. Comply with all relevant e-waste laws and regulations, including
    foreign strictures.

E-Waste Types

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Managing e-waste is complicated owing to the wide variety of electronic
systems, devices, and components in use in today. Consider the following
partial list compiled by Rubicon Global Holdings.7

Traditional E-Gear

  • Cell phones
  • Smartphones
  • PDAs
  • Pagers
  • Computer monitors
  • Computers/CPUs
  • Laptop computers
  • Modems and routers
  • Photocopiers
  • Printers
  • Scanners
  • Fax machines
  • Stereos
  • Radios
  • MP3 players (or iPods)
  • Landline telephones
  • DVDs
  • Televisions (Tube, plasma, and LCD, LED)
  • VCRs
  • Cameras
  • CD players
  • Video game consoles

E-Gear of More Recent Vintage

  • All smart devices (iPhones, iPads, iWatches, Fitbits, Kindles, Nooks,
    Amazon Fire Tablet, etc.)
  • Virtual Reality (VR) gear
  • Virtual Assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.)
  • Professional and personal drones
  • GPS Devices

E-Waste Laws

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United States

As with computer security, e-waste disposal is governed by laws and
regulations spanning multiple jurisdictions.

While the US has no national law concerning the management of e-waste,
25 states8 plus the District of Columbia have enacted their own

  • 2003: California
  • 2004: Maine
  • 2005: Maryland
  • 2006: Washington
  • 2007: Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina
  • 2008: New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri, Hawaii,
    Rhode Island, Illinois, Michigan
  • 2009: Indiana, Wisconsin
  • 2010: Vermont, South Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania
  • 2011: Utah
  • 2014: District of Columbia9

While state laws typically target electronics manufacturers, their
provisions are generally applicable to enterprises and educational

The World

Among recent developments, as reported by ERI, the largest fully
integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider in the US:

European Union (EU) member nations “must start phasing
out electronics that use micro-USB or other non-USB-C cables for charging.
It’s a small change, but one that is designed to lower the amount of cable
e-waste per person.

India drafted a new e-waste policy that is expected to
go into effect later in 2022. If it does, by 2025, businesses will need to
properly recycle a minimum of 80 percent of their e-waste. By 2023 and
2024, businesses will have to recycle at least 60 percent and 70 percent,

Pakistan “is working on establishing e-waste policies
during 2022 to create standard guidelines for all districts to follow and
to create environmentally-friendly e-waste systems.”

Rwanda is one of 13 African countries with e-waste
legislation. The country’s first e-waste facility opened in 2020 and
they’re adding collection centers to ensure there is one in every district
in the country.”10

E-Waste Lifecycle

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Managing e-waste involves managing the e-waste lifecycle:

  • Phase 1: Identify those electronic assets nearing the
    end of their useful life, thus becoming e-waste candidates.
  • Phase 2: Determine which assets can be reasonably
    resurrected, either repaired, repurposed, or donated, and select the
    appropriate disposition of each.
  • Phase 3: Determine which assets are non-reusable,
    i.e., which assets are e-waste, and eliminate each asset in a safe,
    ecologically-responsible manner.

To illustrate, consider a fleet of aging PCs. Originally acquired to
support data-intensive scientific research, the PCs are deemed too slow to
accommodate present-day applications. Before declaring these devices
e-waste, and relegating them to the enterprise scrap heap, enterprise
asset management officials should examine the various alternatives:

  • Repair – Can the PCs be outfitted with additional
    memory to provide satisfactory performance? Is the process affordable
    (relative to purchasing new PCs)? If the answers are yes, repair the
  • Repurpose – If repair is not an option, can the PCs
    be redeployed to administrative areas, where high performance is not
    essential? If the answer is yes, repurpose the units.
  • Donate – If neither repair nor repurpose is a viable
    option, can the PCs be donated to schools or other worthy – and,
    incidentally, tax-deductible – organizations? If the answer is yes,
    scrub the PCs of all enterprise data and donate the devices. (As an
    alternative to donation, permit employees to buy the PCs for a modest
  • Eliminate – If the PCs cannot be repaired,
    repurposed, or donated, engage a reputable IT Asset Disposition (ITAD)
    vendor to sell or recycle the devices.

ITAD vendors specialize in streamlining the disposition of IT assets. In
selecting an ITAD vendor, analyst Sharon Baker suggests the following:

  • Only do business with a certified vendor – “There are
    two major certifications in the industry – R2 and e-Stewards. The
    certifications cover/verify areas such as Data management/destruction,
    Security, Health & Safety, Legal Requirements, Resale Requirements,
    Insurance, [and] Traceability.”
  • Conduct an on-site inspection of potential vendors
    “View the security protocols, their processes, and ask employees about
    health & safety – find out if they put their written system into
    action at all times. If you can’t go on site, conduct a thorough desk
    audit to view policies, understand how they track and handle your
    equipment, and how they continually work to improve their systems and
    processes. A check with local and federal government agencies can
    usually provide a good overview of any major violations that may affect
    the services you are seeking.”11


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Managing e-waste should be part of enterprise procurement and asset
management. This means:

Implementing an Asset Management
(if one does not already exist), to log the owner,
location, description, and current use of all electronic assets.

Developing an E-Waste Policy,
to prescribe the disposition of electronic assets as they near or reach

Educating Employees about E-Waste,
to enable informed decision-making about enterprise, as well as personal,
electronic assets.12

Amending Procurement Practices
(as required), to place proper emphasis on the reduction of future
e-waste. This may include opting for more energy-efficient,
readily-repairable, and versatile electronics, often at the expense of
increased purchase prices.

Becoming Familiar with E-Waste
, to avoid financial sanctions and other penalties
associated with improper or inadequate e-waste management.

Setting-Up Recycling Drop-Off Centers
, to build e-waste awareness and encourage e-waste
compliance. As analyst Zaheer Dodhia advises, “You may want to open [the
Drop-Off Centers to employees’] personal e-waste …, just to encourage
the recycling outlook. I would definitely advise making it easy for your
employees, or your IT department at the very least, to access the
[Drop-Off Centers] so that the recycling items don’t pile up.”13

Partnering with a Certified ITAD
, to ensure the least cost and greatest return on e-waste

Simplify E-Waste Processing

Goring forward, from both an enterprise and consumer perspective, e-waste
processing should be easier. Just as municipalities facilitate the
collection of bottles, paper, and other common recyclables, local
governments, perhaps supported by federal funding, should enable the ready
collection and safe disposition of obsolete computers, monitors, TVs, and
other e-waste. Specifically, they should provide periodic curbside pickup of
spent electronics. This would encourage both businesses and private citizens
to responsibly reduce their e-waste inventories, and substantially curtail
e-waste pollution.


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About the Author

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James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst
and business writer with more than 40 years’ IT experience. A member of
“Who’s Who in Finance and Industry,” Mr. Barr has designed, developed, and
deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune 500 firms. He
is the author of several books, including How to Succeed in Business
BY Really Trying
, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory Panel, and a
senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management Practices.
Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at

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