Recycling is one thing, but recycling responsibly is a whole other story. John Shegerian, chief executive officer (CEO) of IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company, ERI, drilled down on the harmful effects of electronic waste (e-waste) and our responsibilities as consumers to recycle responsibly, in an exclusive interview with Channel Daily News.
E-waste is the fastest growing solid waste stream, ahead of plastics by an order of magnitude that is two to four times greater — what Shegerian called “a complete explosion” — that he attributes to the way electronics have become “interconnected and ubiquitous in our lives”, over the past 20 years.
Whether it’s from high tech wearables such as Garmin watches and Oura rings or the gadgets in the modern home like Nest, Ring and Alexa, our data is being tracked and collected everywhere, said Shegerian. Cars, or even domestic white goods like refrigerators, may have hard drives that contain an array of private data that needs to be destroyed.
“Don’t take your devices to any e-waste recycler,” asserted Shegerian. People should send their devices to an IT Asset Disposal (ITAD) or a recycling company that is SOC 2 (Service Organization Control 2) certified or NAID AAA (National Association for Information Destruction) or both, to ensure safe destruction of data. He added, “simply deleting your data or doing a reset isn’t enough – the data on your device can still be recovered and mined, which can potentially lead to bad outcomes for the owner of the device”.
Besides our valuable data, the numerous precious metals and resources in e-waste also warrant safe disposal of our e-waste. Shegerian explained, “Radical transparency in the business of e-waste recycling is essential – and the only true way to make sure commodities and elements end up in the right hands.” Customers disposing of their e-waste through ERI, for instance, have “radically transparent access” to what happens to their device, from the time it is picked up until it is disposed of, he said.
He added that recycling companies need to also be transparent about who their partners and investors are, as well as what they do with the materials extracted from devices. For instance, South Korean LS-Nikko Copper receives all of ERI’s shredded printed circuit boards, which contain copper, gold, silver, palladium, lead and other precious metals. Alcoa gets all of ERI’s aluminum, while Redwood Materials gets all of ERI’s lithium-ion batteries and solar shred.
“We have three strategic investors who sit on our board, buy our offtake material and help us to provide radical transparency regarding where all of our materials go at ERI. We believe that radical transparency is one of the key pillars of responsible recycling — and therefore, of sustainable circular economy and ESG behaviors as well,” said Shegerian.
Moreover, Shegerian said that e-waste contains hazardous materials such as cadmium, beryllium, lead, arsenic, mercury which, when rained upon, get released into the ground and the water supply, making their way into vegetation, animals, and eventually human beings.
He added that researching the right recycler, one that ethically and safely disposes of materials, also helps in deterring illegal shipments to emerging economies such as China and Africa, that usually do not have the facilities to safely dismantle devices, or that engage children to work in the informal waste sector. Pregnant women and children living, going to school, or playing near ill-equipped and unregulated recycling facilities also are at risk.
From an environmental perspective, Shegerian recommends that consumers find an ITAD or recycling company that is a BAN (Basel Action Network) “e-steward” or R2 (Responsible Recycling) certified, or both.
“Recycle, recycle, recycle!” affirms Shegerian “There’s truly only one way to keep the mounting glut of e-waste under control, and that is to responsibly recycle it. Data must be destroyed and all elements and materials processed and put into the circular economy for beneficial reuse.”