e-Waste’s Green Thumb: Grow ROI, Reduce Supply Chain Risk

Earth Week shouldn't be a once a year thought: beyond the public relations moment are ROI, environmental responsibility, and counterfeit risk mitigation that present real opportunities for the electronics supply chain. The e-Stewards Program is just one example of existing pathways for safe asset disposition and responsible ROI opportunities.

Electronics waste (e-waste) recycling and refurbishing offer real business opportunities beyond a quick, green, public relations' pat on the back. These e-waste solutions are tackling the rapidly mounting problem of obsolete products and components discarded by consumers and enterprises. Beyond the altruistic, environmental e-waste solutions, there are real advantages, from ROI to counterfeit mitigation, driving growth among these resellers.

One man's trash holds another's gold

Just before Earth Day, Reuters reported, “Overall, 41.8 million tonnes of 'e-waste' — defined as any device with an electric cord or battery — were dumped around the globe in 2014 and only an estimated 6.5 million tonnes were taken for recycling, the United Nations University (UNU) said.” The same UNU report warns of significantly greater volumes of e-waste in the coming years due to decreases in pricing and increases in global consumption levels, along with rapidly shortening device life-cycles.

Furthermore, the UNU report identified, “[…]the e-waste discarded in 2014 contained an [sic] some16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, and 300 tonnes of gold as well as significant amounts of silver, aluminum, palladium, and other potentially reusable resources, with a combined estimated value of US$52 billion.” That is a significant amount of valuable resources being discarded.

The crisis of e-waste, in sheer volume alone, will escalate. The supply of e-waste will grow and continue to be shipped to the emerging market countries where parts are inefficiently scavenged and improperly remanufactured, contributing to serious health and environmental hazards while escalating counterfeit issues. But let's face it, given the amount of information available on these hazards, perhaps we need to prick a different driver, such as the missed Return on Investment (ROI), to encourage more action.

Green solutions grow: Refurbishing and remarketing

Obviously, there are challenges to reclaiming the value in e-waste, or it wouldn't be piling up in the developing and emerging market nations' scrap heaps. One readily available solution to reclaiming value and supporting green corporate efforts is to partner with green supply chain recyclers. One recognized group, e-Stewards certified recyclers, stands out because they have met the e-Stewards Standards, annual audits covering all global facilities.

The environmental and business opportunities to e-waste recycling are two-fold: first, there is an opportunity to support corporate responsibility management goals; second, there is a quantitative accounting of environmental stewardship (e.g., carbon footprint reduction, critical metals saved, and toxins diverted from waste, such as through e-Stewards Global Impact Calculators). Working with certified e-waste recyclers ensures operational conformance across defined requirements. Importantly, in the case of memory storage, all data must be permanently destroyed. Similarly, components and hardware must be responsibly managed: handling of toxic materials; no exporting to developing countries; tracking downstream handling; and ensuring best practices are used to protect the environment and people.

But where is the ROI? The ROI is realized in refurbishing obsolete components and hardware versus recycling. Selling obsolete electronics and components to service providers who refurbish and then remarket obsolete electronics provides ROI, and presents a truly zero-landfill e-waste opportunity. Again, it is essential to work with leading, accredited and/or certified partners to avoid risk or further contributing to global e-waste problems.

The set of certified businesses that purchase obsolete equipment or components, ensure data destruction, refurbish, and then remarket equipment, are growing and gaining in prominence. Growth is driven by tight margins at enterprises needing alternative, scalable solutions for updating computing, networking, and server equipment. Purchasing quality, refurbished equipment shaves significant percentages off costs while supporting corporate responsibility goals.

A once value-added service is now its own business model along the global semiconductor and electronics supply chain. These new businesses leverage their access to extensive, global, and secure buyer networks to resell certified refurbished IT, server, and networking equipment, both domestically and internationally. Their growth is based not only environmental stewardship but especially in businesses seeking to lower costs by upgrading with refurbished equipment. I expect we'll see rapid growth in the e-recycling/refurbishing sector, given the pricing advantages for purchasers and the environmental plus ROI gains for sellers. On the consumer side, there's a double driver for growth: lower prices and excellent environmental stewardship – that's certainly a healthy green shoot for the global electronics supply chain.

Has your supply chain started claiming the potential benefits of e-waste recycling? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

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