Disposing of E-waste 

By Andrea Cannavina

Most law firms possess the various electronic tools typically used in any office: computers, copiers, all-in-one printers, monitors, laptops, cell phones, business telephones, perhaps even a flat-screen television in the conference or waiting room. Without these tools, it would be difficult to run a successful law practice.

However, once a piece of equipment becomes obsolete, is no longer needed, stops working, or is replaced, what happens to it?

If you are like most, you’ve never given it a thought and promptly discard your old electronics as you would any other office waste products—into the trash can or the office dumpster.

Turns out that is not such a good idea.

What Is E-waste?
E-waste—defined as any unwanted electronic or electric equipment—frequently contains lead, mercury, and other materials that are known to have hazardous environmental effects. The most common culprits are:

  • Batteries: cadmium, copper, and (in older batteries) mercury
  • Cell phones: antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc
  • Computers and computer monitors: arsenic, cadmium, lead, PCBs
  • Electronic devices: lead
  • Fluorescent lamps: mercury
  • Televisions: arsenic, cadmium, lead, PCBs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called electronic waste the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the United States. The statistics are chilling. According to the EPA, some 29.9 million desktop computers and 12 million laptops were discarded in 2007. That’s more than 114,000 computers discarded per day. In all, the United States generated some 3.01 million tons of e‐waste that year, and only 410,000 tons of this amount, or 13.6 percent, were recycled. The rest was trashed, ending up in landfills or incinerators.

Disposing of E-waste
So how can you safely dispose of your unwanted electronic equipment?

Before purchasing new hardware to replace older equipment, investigate whether any manufacturers offer discounts on new purchases if you turn in your old machine. If you have already bought your new equipment, don’t despair. Larger electronic companies and retailers occasionally hold special events where you may deliver all unwanted e-products and electronics.

In addition to such corporate-sponsored programs, your municipality may offer its own recycling or disposal programs. Many offer drop-off centers. Research the Internet to find out what steps are necessary to prepare tech items for recycling or distribution in your area, and locate the nearest recycling center that will accept your equipment (try searching by ZIP code). Various types of equipment might need to be disposed of differently, so be sure to group your items as indicated.

The EPA website ( www.epa.gov) offers additional, detailed information, as well as a state-by-state list of waste management programs. Certain non-governmental websites also might prove helpful: The Telecommunications Industry Association ( www.ecyclingcentral.com/index.php) and the environmental services company Earth911 ( www.earth911.com) both offer guides for recycling programs across the United States.

If you don’t have time to do the research and legwork, locate a local business that offers professional disposal services. They will happily pick up your e-waste for a small fee. It may even get you a tax deduction. There are also charitable organizations that can help. The Wireless Foundation ( http://wirelessfoundation.org), for example, oversees the Call to Protect program, which assists in disposing of cell phones and other wireless devices; all proceeds are donated to national organizations working to end family violence.

Of course, before donating anything, be certain that all information and files are removed. There are numerous programs to securely wipe the contents of any computer; one popular—and free—choice is Darik’s Boot and Nuke ( www.dban.org).

Reducing E-waste
The number-one thing we can do besides responsibly disposing of our e-waste is to reduce consumption. One fewer item purchased, charged, and cared for is also one fewer item sent through the electronic waste stream. Here are some tips to reduce unnecessary consumption:

  • Be frugal and don’t impulse-buy your tech.
  • Research all purchases from an eco-friendly standpoint as well as an economical one. Does the manufacturer use recyclable materials? Will the product fulfill multiple functions, allowing you to power up fewer devices?
  • Power down your computer and printer each night, and unplug your chargers.
  • Properly configure the electrical needs of your equipment. For a blog post explaining how to properly configure Windows-based machines for optimal electrical saving, see “Green Up Your Technology,” www.rolandschorr.com/blogs/index.php/2009/11/23/green-up-your-technology?blog=5.
  • Consider offering employees the option to telecommute one or two days per week. One day working remotely can yield a 20 percent savings on office expenses and electricity. The policy saves money, improves morale, and lowers consumption www.rolandschorr.com/blogs/index.php/2009/11/23/green-up-your-technology?blog=5.

It’s Up to Us
We all must do our part to reduce the huge influx of hazardous e-waste entering the environment through landfills and incinerators. We can each do this by recycling, repurposing, and reducing the equipment we use each day—and by selecting more environmentally friendly devices going forward.

 

 

  • Andrea Cannavina is a virtual assistant helping attorneys and law firm administrators understand and configure a digital workflow to get more done with less—less resources, less time, and less stress. She may be reached at andrea@legaltypist.com or via her website, www.legaltypist.com.

    Copyright 2010

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