Creating an Electronics Recycling Program

Each year, new electronics that are faster, flashier and more fun reach the market. As old electronics become obsolete, how municipalities and businesses handle disposal is important. Discarding electronics improperly can lead to violations or Superfund liability. One way to combat infractions is to have an electronics recycling program.

Many states and the federal government provide hazardous waste disposal regulation exemptions to companies that dispose of electronics properly. Consequently, it's in municipalities' and businesses' best interests to act responsibly and create a disposal plan.

Key to a successful electronics recycling program is choosing the right recycler and managing the program properly to control costs and liability exposure.

Before implementing a program, determine your priorities. If avoiding liability from improper disposal is your main concern, there will be costs from properly tracking and documenting your resale, recycling and disposal methods.

For businesses where information security is important to manage risk and avoid proprietary information loss, a formal security policy should be developed. For example, decide whether computer hard drives will be erased before the equipment leaves the site or if you want the recycler to erase the drives. Trained technicians at a recycling facility usually can perform these services for a lower fee than charged by a information technology (IT) professional.

If asset tags are used to identify and track equipment, consider having the recycler perform asset management inventory services to save money. The recycler can remove all asset tags for destruction or return the tags to your company.

You also should determine what types of electronics will be recycled. Will it be mainly desktop computers and printers or larger mainframe and other electronic systems such as telecommunications equipment, laboratory equipment, etc? Be sure the recycler can service your needs.

Electronics typically are replaced every two to four years. If this is the case for your operation, ask a recycler about sharing resale revenues to offset program costs. If equipment is replaced less frequently, consider a basic recycling contract to keep processing costs low. This will reduce fees for testing equipment or erasing drives on equipment that cannot be sold and only will be dismantled.

The volume of equipment your municipality or business generates will affect the program's cost as well. When a prospective recycler asks how much equipment you have, keep in mind that one pallet equals:

- 27, 14-inch to 15-inch monitors;

- 40 central processing units (CPUs);

- Eight to 12 printers; or

- 80 to 120 laptops.

You must decide how to store equipment because obsolete equipment takes up valuable space and, as time goes by, residual value will continually decrease. If storage space is an issue, ask the recycler what it costs for more frequent pickups of small quantities.

Preparing equipment for shipping and transport also should be considered. Find out whether the recycler has technicians who will uninstall the equipment or if your employees must consolidate, pack and store the equipment near an easily accessible area. Even if the recycler can handle these tasks, find out how much he charges. It may be cheaper to outsource this work.

Then, find out whether you have a loading dock and a forklift available to assist in loading. If the recycler will be moving and packing, find out if your facility requires Masonite to protect expensive flooring.

Also, determine whether you will use company trucks to deliver the equipment or require a pickup.

Once you know what services you need and the quantity and quality of the obsolete equipment, contact several recyclers to evaluate their services and prices.

If your business operates in several locations, make sure the recycler can service them and minimize transportation costs. Thoroughly investigate the recycler's logistics capabilities and have a single point-of-contact for all locations.

But the most important step when choosing a recycler is to visit their facility for an evaluation. Anyone with a computer can print a recycling certificate. You should visit the operation and ask specifically for tracking documentation and other evidence that support the recycler's claims.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) states that a hazardous waste generator ultimately is liable for proper disposal. Therefore, indemnifications, certificates and other comfort items are meaningless if you aren't aware of how your material is being handled.

When searching for an electronics recycler, consider these questions:

- Is the recycler licensed or permitted to recycle electronics?

- Can the recycler provide all required services?

- Can the recycler service all of a company's locations or throughout a municipality?

- Does the recycler audit its resale channels to assure that hazardous components are not being disposed of improperly?

- Where does the recycler send hazardous components from demanufactured equipment for recovery or disposal?

- Are these facilities properly permitted, and do they maintain compliance records? Check with state regulatory agencies to be sure.

- Have you visited the facility to see first-hand how operations and recordkeeping are managed?

- Can the recycler provide references?

Once you've found a qualified recycler, here is a list of services that may need to be fulfilled:

- Deinstallation;

- Packing and loading;

- Transportation;

- Asset management (item description, manufacturer, model number, serial number, asset tag number);

- Asset tag removal and return;

- Hard drive erasing;

- Equipment testing for saleable units;

- Demanufacturing and recycling;

- Tracking and documenting all resale and recycling transactions; and

- Scheduling and managing multiple locations.