The Dirty Truth About E-Waste Recycling

e-waste graveyard
Have you ever donated clothing to a thrift shop like AmVets or Salvation Army? If so, I’m sure you’ve felt the satisfaction, no matter how minor, of giving to help further a cause. Now, imagine if the clothing you donated to the poor was instead taken and sold off for minuscule profit rather than going where you were led to believe it was going. You would feel cheated and lied to, but, more importantly, the people who need the clothing are left out in the cold.

If the public were to find out a charity was turning donations for profit, there would be justifiable outrage…and yet that is exactly what’s occurring in the world of e-waste. The e-waste recycling industry has a major problem on its hands: recycling companies exporting e-waste to developing nations rather than recycling on their own.

So how is it that when I take my old computer to an e-waste recycler, there is a possibility that it will end up in a junkyard in Hong Kong where it is scraped for pieces, exposing laborers to toxins and destroying local ecosystems? There are a few causes:

  1. The Basel Convention: Primarily, this phenomenon occurs because there are no domestic laws inhibiting it. Regulation regarding e-waste began with the Basel Convention in 1992. The international treaty, designed to diminish the amount of hazardous waste moved between countries, especially less-developed countries, has been ratified by every signatory nation except two: The United States and Haiti.
  2. Legislation: Domestic efforts to pass legislation have been futile. Currently, there are no federal laws prohibiting the e-waste exports. States do not have the jurisdiction to restrict international exports so state by state legislation carries little weight.
  3. The Commodities Market: When the commodity market is bullish, the processing and recycling of e-waste presents a lucrative business opportunity. Not so in a bear market. For many companies, the current state of the commodity market means that exporting e-waste is far more profitable than domestically processing and recycling the materials.
  4. Information Asymmetry: Finally, there’s a lack of coherence as to whether or not e-waste companies exporting their waste is even an issue. The UN says that anywhere between 10-40% of US e-waste is exported. Meanwhile, the International Trade Organization claimed that only 0.13% of US e-waste is exported. Contrary to these reports, Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network conducted a tracking experiment and found that about ⅓ of the electronic devices they put trackers on and then delivered to e-waste recycling companies eventually ended up overseas.

None of these causes even address the scariest issue about this: there is very little you can do about it. You can campaign and lobby for new laws, but lawmakers in D.C. have been blocking legislation on this exact issue since the early 90s.

Reputable e-waste recyclers will, at the very least, be certified. Sometimes companies will attempt to circumvent their certification. There are going to be bad apples everywhere. But not every single e-waste company is dumping in foreign markets. That makes it vitally important for you to research and vet any e-waste company before partnering with them.

Here at 4th Bin, we are very aware of these issues and the problems within the systems at play. This is why we are so committed and passionate about ensuring ethical, responsible and efficient end-to-end recycling solutions for our clients’ electronics and e-waste. We never export, send to landfill or stockpile anything in our care. Frankly, our e-waste collection and electronics recycling is incomparable.

We care deeply about two core issues—protecting your sensitive e-waste resources while also protecting the environment. This is what fuels the work we do.

Interested in learning more about our work? You can read about our responsible recycling solutions here.

At 4th Bin, Earth Day is Everyday

There is one day each year that draws everyone’s attention to the harmful effects of pollutants, toxins, and hazardous waste on the environment…and that day is today, Earth Day! Every year, people use today to both celebrate the earth as well as to help raise awareness about the devastating effects that environmental pollutants have on our planet.
bin of e-waste
Here at 4th Bin, we like to think that everyday is Earth Day. One of the primary motivations behind our work is offering an outlet for the responsible recycling of e-waste to individuals who understand the consequences due to haphazard electronic disposal and want to minimize their impact on the environment. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned people are not aware of the destructive forces hidden inside their computers and cell phones.

In the spirit of Earth Day, we feel it is our responsibility to not only offer an environmentally friendly outlet for e-waste disposal, but also to take this opportunity to inform our community why it is so important to reduce and recycle e-waste. A few things to consider:

Electronics are full of toxins that are damaging to human health. Poisons such as Arsenic and Antimony, carcinogens like dioxins and cadmium, and nervous system toxins like lead and mercury are abundant in electronics. Frequently, e-waste is shipped to 3rd world countries like Ghana and Nigeria where men, women and children are tasked with de-constructing the waste, exposing themselves to the dangerous chemicals.

The level of toxic waste found in electronics is truly alarming. In fact, e-waste contributes to just 2% of the total trash in American landfills, but contains over 70% of the toxic waste in landfills.

The advantages of recycling e-waste are not limited to reducing the amount of waste and toxic chemicals in landfills around the world,. The recycling process also allows many of the valuable resources used in the production of electronics to be re-used. This means there is a diminished need for mining and other production costs.

Did you know it takes around 530 lbs. of fossil fuels, 48 lbs. of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to produce just one computer and monitor? Recycling electronics minimizes the American consumer’s energy dependence. Recycling 1 million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year.

As globalization increases and the demand for electronics rises, the need for responsible electronic recycling outlets will only grow. The human effects on climate change have become indisputable, and it’s up to each and every one of us to continue to reduce our impact on the environment. Responsible e-waste is just one step on the path towards a cleaner and greener planet Earth.

Don’t Let Your Data End Up in the Hands of ISIS

Here at 4th Bin we proudly tell our clients that we are committed to providing the highest level of professionalism, security and reliability when handling certified data destruction, old equipment and e-waste services. We take this incredibly seriously—especially in terms of security.

Clients who want to get rid of sensitive IT equipment (like hard drives) typically understand the need for a secure data destruction service. When dealing with other equipment, the need for the service may not be as clear. But it is just as important.

Take this cautionary tale that has the potential to completely devastate a business.

When Mark Oberholtzer, owner of a plumbing company based in Texas, wanted to upgrade his truck, he didn’t think much about taking it to his Ford dealership for a trade. It was a company truck and Mark had a decal on it that promoted its business. When he was trading it that promoted its in for an upgrade, he went to try to remove the decal but the salesman on the lot told him not to bother because it could scratch the paint.

So Mark got into his new truck and drove away, thinking that was the end of it. But it was actually just the beginning of a very bumpy ride.

Mark, like many of us, didn’t really think about where his old truck would end up or how Ford would excess the vehicle. What Mark certainly didn’t expect is that a photo of his old truck with the decal of his company intact, would get into the hands of ISIS fighters in the Syrian civil war. But that’s exactly what happened.

While Ford isn’t sure how Mark’s truck ended up in the hands of ISIS, it is being investigated because Mark is suing the dealership for more than one million dollars for financial losses and damages to his company’s reputation.

His plumbing company was heavily impacted because a photo of the truck in the hands of ISIS, with his company’s decal intact, went viral. In one day, Mark’s office, business phone and personal cell received over one thousand calls from around the nation, many harassing.

Mark told CNN, “Most of the calls were harassing and threatened violence and included the yelling (of) expletives at whomever answered the phone, the “singing in Arabic for the duration of the phone call and threats of injury or death.”

For his employees’ protection and his own, Mark temporarily shut down his business and left town. He was also contacted by Homeland Security and the FBI.

While, initially, the idea that something you once owned can possibly end up on the other side of the world in terrorists’ hands seems hard to imagine, it can happen. But the real takeaway of this story is that if you don’t know where your old equipment is going, it can go anywhere.

And we aren’t just talking about the obvious types of technology such as cars, desktops or laptops. The frightening reality is that ISIS is extremely tech savvy. As such, the questions could be: How are they accessing the Internet? Where are they getting their network equipment (such as firewalls, routers, and switches)? The reality is that when you are not properly vetting your vendors to make sure they are responsibly destroying your equipment and technology, it can end up in the wrong hands. This may seem alarmist but we bet Mark Oberholtzer is thinking he should’ve thought of that before he handed over his truck. What you should be asking yourself is: What are the implications to you and your business if a security agency pulls up a serial number of your device feeding ISIS the Internet?

It’s a scary thought, but it does make you realize how important it is to manage your e-waste, data destruction, and the removal of old equipment. You need to work with a trusted professional so you are absolutely confident that when you get rid of your IT assets, they are destroyed reliably, professionally and, most importantly, securely.

Interested in learning more? Contact at us at 4th Bin.