There's Green in Green Tech

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Green Tech

Used electronic devices contain precious metal 'deposits' that are 40 to 50 times richer than newly mined ore. Yet, about 80 percent are tossed into landfills.

Over the last decade, green computing and sustainability have evolved from fringe ideas to mainstream (and smart) business practices. A growing number of organizations have discovered that these concepts are actually about dollars and sense, as well as conservation.

Nevertheless, e-waste and used electronics are a growing concern. Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates that 12 billion Internet-connected devices (including smartphones, tablets, computers and smart TVs) are currently in use worldwide, and that the number is expected to reach 33 billion within the next four years.

That's an average of 2.3 devices for every person on the planet. This presents society with an increasingly urgent challenge: how to safely and sustainably manage the growing volume of discarded and obsolete devices.

Interestingly, the United Nations reported in 2012 that used electronic devices contain precious metal "deposits" that are 40 to 50 times richer than newly mined ore. Yet, about 80 percent of these precious metals are tossed into landfills instead of undergoing responsible recovery.

As Earth Day approaches (it's on April 22), there's growing concern about the waste and how to cope with the staggering growth of computing devices. Consequently, SERI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting responsible electronics recycling around the world, is hoping to bring greater awareness to businesses as well as individuals.

"As continued demand for new devices contributes to the depletion of our limited supply of mined resources, we must rethink the whole notion of e-waste," noted the organization's executive director, John Lingelbach. Of course, dumping devices into landfills contributes to an array of problems, including ground and water contamination.

SERI suggests that businesses and consumers focus on sending used or obsolete electronic devices to a company that refurbishes or recycles them. It also suggests checking to ensure that the electronics recycler is certified to the R2 (Responsible Recycling) Standard.

These companies adhere to the highest industry standards for safe and sustainable refurbishing, recycling and data destruction. This way, obsolete and unwanted electronics do not end up in landfills.

SERI, which supports green computing and sustainability efforts globally, already works with numerous companies—including DirectTV, Goodwill, Lenovo, Microsoft, Oracle and Xerox—to develop training programs and conduct business audits.

As Lingelbach put it: "A more sustainable solution is to extend the life of electronic products when possible, and when those products reach end-of-life, responsibly recycle them."

This article was originally published on 2016-04-21
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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