Solutions for disposition of computers and electronics at end-of-life should follow the hierarchy of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”.

  • Only purchase new computers when existing computers cannot be upgraded to perform the necessary tasks.
  • Look for reuse opportunities within your own organization, before sending equipment outside your facility.
  • If you have a large number of computers to replace each year, choose an asset disposition firm that is or uses only e-Steward certified recyclers.

Reuse

Reuse as an alternative: Reuse is the practice of donating, selling, or redirecting computers and other information technologies in order to maximize use over their lifespan. When properly executed, reuse is an alternative to recycling that assists in reducing electronic waste.

Reuse liability guidelines: Two key issues must be considered before a company sends electronics into the reuse market.

  1. HIPPA compliance. Consider HIPPA requirements during IT end-of-life management. Ensure that you have a data security plan in place before releasing the equipment, and then make certain it is followed. Hospitals need to comply with HIPAA by ensuring data security before equipment is donated or reused in any form. If this condition cannot be met, it is preferable to have equipment recycled to ensure data security.
  2. Legal liabilities. Be aware of your legal liabilities as the hazardous waste generator for any electronics that you sell or donate for reuse. You are legally responsible for performing “adequate due diligence” (exercising proper care) for your unwanted electronics, as well as their downstream suppliers, to ensure that the hazardous components do not end up contaminating the environment in any country.

Reuse options

  • Redistribute equipment to other departments or individuals within your organization.
  • Contract an asset recovery company to find a market for your used equipment.
  • Asset recovery involves careful analysis and deployment of used computers and other electronics. Options include: refurbishment and possible resale (sometimes with a profit split for the disposing facility); donation opportunities (with potential charitable deductions); resale of some components and recycling of the rest.
  • Offer used information technology to responsible charities, which will place it with those in need. Keep in mind these organizations must ensure proper end-of-life handling of your hazardous waste, as you retain liability. Make sure that these charities do not ship equipment to developing countries, where there are few, if any, facilities for processing the hazardous material once it becomes a waste in their country. For guidance on selecting responsible organizations to donate equipment, refer to Catholic Health Association’s Medical Surplus Recovery guidance
  • Visit the website of the Basel Action Network, for more information about international and national laws restricting the trade in hazardous waste.

Recycling

Recycling is a process of dismantling electronic devices into component materials to be reclaimed for new manufacture. A wide range of recycling practices, both safe and unsafe, exists for recycling computers and other electronic equipment. Recycling of electronic waste includes four phases, all of which the hazardous waste generator is required to take responsibility.

  • Ensuring proper data destruction, and certification.
  • Reducing the electronic devices into component materials to be reclaimed. This is accomplished through manual disassembly or mechanical destruction such as shredding, crushing or granulation.
  • After physically reducing the electronic devices, separating component materials (including hazardous ones) and sending them to their respective markets for final processing, such as secondary smelting, incineration, refining, etc.
  • This final processing can occur either in relatively clean, high-tech facilities or in unsophisticated operations that are extremely polluting. For some materials there are no markets, and therefore some unwanted materials will go to landfills, waste-to-energy incinerators, etc.
  • Manufacturing new products with the reclaimed valuable materials. 

Accountability

Some computer recycling companies operate under stringent environmental controls and worker safety protections, while others do not. Workers dismantling discarded electronic equipment under poor working conditions can be exposed to many chemical compounds with known and suspected negative health effects. In many instances, electronic waste is shipped overseas for recycling, frequently to developing countries where weaker laws or lack of industrial infrastructure result in very toxic processing of the hazardous components of e-waste. In some cases, the export of hazardous waste from the United States to developing nations is illegal under the Basel Convention and OECD treaties. In the U.S., prison labor is often used to recycle computers. Concerns about the conditions under which recycling of electronic waste occurs should encourage a closer look at recycling companies’ labor, environmental, and export standards.

Recycling standards and initiatives

A good first step before selecting an electronics recycling company that meets your needs and protects human health and the environment includes seeking electronic recyclers who properly handle hazardous electronic components, based on national and international laws. Recyclers should be able to verify that they do not ship hazardous electronic waste to landfills, to developing (non-OECD) countries, or to prison operations in the US, as well as have adequate facility closure insurance or coverage.

Whether contracting with a recycler or an asset disposition firm, it is crucial to ask detailed questions about their services, recycling facilities, worker safety policies, HIPAA and RCRA compliance services and other factors in order to make an informed decision.

Certification Programs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages all electronics recyclers to become certified by demonstrating to an accredited, independent third-party auditor that they meet specific standards to safely recycle and manage electronics. Currently two accredited certification standards exist: The e-Stewards® standards and the Responsible Recycling Practices (R2). Responsible electronics recycling provides important benefits, such as:

  • Reducing environmental and human health impacts from improper recycling;
  • Increasing access to quality reusable and refurbished equipment to those who need them; and
  • Reducing energy use and other environmental impacts associated with mining and processing of virgin materials – conserving our limited natural resources.

Premier contracted suppliers. Premier’s contracted suppliers for computers, electronics, and asset management and certifications can be found in Supply Chain Advisor (Member log in required.)

Acknowlegment

The Premier Safety Institute wishes to thank Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth for their assistance with development of this Web site module.