Taking out the Electronic Trash

By McConnell, Mike Cpm | Journal of Property Management, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview
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Taking out the Electronic Trash

McConnell, Mike Cpm, Journal of Property Management

IREM Member divulges methods for disposing of e-waste


I had an answer ready as my company has recently begun to address the e-waste issue by recycling ink jet and laser copier cartridges.

E-waste is the term used to reference electronic products nearing the end of their useful life, or obsolete electronics or products no longer wanted by the original owner. This can include computers, monitors, televisions, VCRs, copiers, fax machines, printers, video games, cell phones or rechargeable batteries. As the use of technology increases, e-waste is quickly becoming a worldwide problem. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that in the United States about 130,000 computers are thrown out every day and over 100 million cell phones are discarded annually.

Fortunately, recycling in general is on the upswing and people are increasingly interested in reducing the amount of trash they contribute to the waste stream. This change in attitude toward recycling means property managers don't have to spend as much time convincing their tenants to participate in a good e-cycle program. They can focus more on creating an awareness of what electronic products and components can be redirected out of the waste stream and provide some means for redirecting them.

The well known recycling mantra of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle doesn't just apply to the environmentally friendly disposal of paper and plastics; it also applies to electronics. Some studies show that, on average, people keep their computers three years and their cell phones two years or less. The frequency of electronics replacement means there is a great potential for reuse by others in need. There are numerous schools, churches and non-profit organizations that would appreciate a donation of serviceable computer equipment, as well as organizations that specialize in receiving the equipment, refurbishing it and directing it to a worthy organization.

It is important to know that many types of electronic equipment contain hazardous materials that can make recycling difficult and expensive. The cost to breakdown and separate the useful materials from an electronic component often exceeds the resale value of the salvaged material. Recently, I saw a program on 60 Minutes where environmentally concerned citizens were taking their computer monitors to a well regarded recycling vendor. The vendor was then illegally shipping the monitors to China where peasant laborers stripped out the useful components and exposed themselves to lead and other heavy metal poisoning. Electronic components often contain various amounts of mercury, cadmium and lead, so it is important to choose a recycling vendor who is professional and qualified to deal with electronic waste.

An indispensable source for information and support on recycling of all types, including electronics, can be found at www.earth911. org. This site offers a comprehensive do-ityourself manual for recycling in the workplace. If you did nothing else but send a link to this site to your tenants I bet there would be many who would implement some of the suggested recycling tips. Some of the e-cycle help found there is a directory of manufacturer and retailer take-back programs (many electronic manufacturers and retailers will 'take back' obsolete electronic equipment) and information on how to use them. You can search for e-cycle vendors, learn how to prep your equipment for recycling and learn about "Reconnect," a recent partnership between Dell Computers and Goodwill Industries that employs Goodwill's clients, while providing valuable e-cycling services to business clients.

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