Computers Remain Out of Reach for Millions — Computer Recycling

Computers Remain Out of Reach for Millions — Computer Recycling

Posted on June 13, 2022 by Maribel Martinez, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

In our final installment of the Computers Remain Out of Reach for Millions series, we examine the computer refurbishment ecosystem and how we can all do better to support e-waste recycling and 21st-century opportunities.

Like today’s cars and appliances, computers are made with planned obsolescence. This means they are manufactured with nondurable parts, with the expectation they will soon become obsolete and that replacement parts will be unavailable. For instance, today’s smartphones are manufactured with adhesives that make the device too difficult and expensive to disassemble or harvest for parts. The cost of large screen devices, coupled with the steady rise of inflation over the past year, makes acquiring new computers even more challenging for many.

Recently, the list of mainly nonprofit providers who gave away refurbished computers to people who needed them has also dwindled significantly for various reasons. These conditions are contributing to a widening digital divide.

Refurbished devices are often the only economically viable option for many people who need a computing device. Refurbished computers are received, inspected, repaired, and redistributed. This cycle generally means a computer will take six months from the time it is received to when it is placed in a new owner’s hands. Computer refurbishers depend on businesses and the general public for a steady supply of computers they no longer want or need that can be reconditioned to have a second or third life. Office moves, company mergers, and the start of fiscal years are typically when corporations refresh their computers -- or every two to four years. However, companies frequently do not resell or recycle their unwanted computers for different reasons.

If a company owns its electronic assets instead of leasing them, reselling its unwanted computers presents a substantial generation of income from their resale value. Despite this, revenue generation remains at the bottom of a list of top concerns when companies consider electronics resale:

(1) managing their data security and privacy risks
(2) managing environmental risks
(3) minimizing disposal costs
(4) freeing up space
(5) maximizing resale value

What, then, happens to computers and other electronic devices if they are not being refurbished? Sadly, they are transported to other countries or illegally disposed of as garbage in the U.S., becoming hazardous waste and affecting air quality, drinking water, and even our food supply. In 2019, the U.S. generated 6,920,000 tons of electronic waste and recycled only 15% of its e-waste. While laws and regulations prevent illegal disposal, some companies choose civil and criminal penalties over creating and implementing sound e-waste disposal plans.

So how can businesses and the general public do better to ensure computers have the chance at a second life and beyond with people who desperately need them

  • Companies could consider owning their electronic devices in procurement instead of leasing them so they can be resold to refurbishers.
  • Companies could consider developing/updating their IT asset disposition plan and include regular reviews and org-wide training of same.
  • Identify local refurbishers and learn how they can help you safely and securely dispose of your electronics.
  • Advocate for computer refurbishers to include tech training so devices will last even longer.
  • Avoid disposing of any electronics, regardless of its size, in the garbage. Contact a local e-waste recycler or refurbisher for guidance.

E-waste creates an untenable burden on the environment and sends viable computers to landfills. Computer recycling and refurbishment creates jobs, supports local economies, and opens up opportunities for people to live, work, learn, play, engage civically, and prosper in today’s world. Doing your part to create a circular economy for our electronics will help advance vital digital inclusion efforts by ensuring that everyone who needs a computer will have one.

 

 


1. Cascade Asset Management. (2021). 7th Annual ITAD Annual Benchmarking Report. Retrieved from https://cascade-assets.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2021-Cascade-ITAD-Benchmarking-Report.pdf

2. Calma, J. (2020). Humans Left Behind a Record Amount of E-Waste in 2020. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/21309776/record-amount-ewaste-2019-global-report-environment-health

3. Cascade Asset Management. (2019). IT Asset Disposition and Best Practices. Retrieved from https://cascade-assets.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2019-Cascade-benchmarking-booklet.pdf


Comments (1)

  • Kiarra Louis

    Kiarra Louis

    19 July 2022 at 09:52 | #

    Thank you for such an informative blog, Maribel!

    reply

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