Companies need to think reuse before recycling because e-waste poses a serious challenge as it is fast becoming the biggest solid waste stream in the world. By properly managing and recycling this waste stream offers businesses the opportunity to become more sustainable by transforming their throwaway culture.

By Bridgette Vermaak, ITAD specialist at Xperien

E-waste is receiving board-level attention and ITAD programs could be an excellent way to contribute to sustainability goals and help solve this worldwide problem.

IT asset management and disposition campaigns should take a comprehensive approach, from what companies purchase to how they dispose of the assets. It goes well beyond environmental challenges; it just makes good business sense.

Here is a guideline as to how companies can improve sustainability through proper IT asset management and disposition programs.

Purchase sustainable electronics

In a world where the environment plays a major role in most purchasing decisions, businesses should start the process by examining their procurement approaches to gain better visibility over their partners and suppliers. It is important to understand what IT assets you are purchasing and how they are built.

Consider reuse initiatives

The best way to become more sustainable, to protect the environment and to save money is by reusing old electronic equipment. Promote a reuse culture within the organisation and incentivise positive behaviour.

Reuse should always be the first option because new products require materials and energy to fabricate and transport. Most electronics have a 10-year lifespan, but many equipment refreshes occur every three to four years, leaving many years of useful life on the table.

It also makes financial sense, by simply extending a technology refresh by one year could save a company millions of rands.

If reuse is not an option, then companies should employ a certified ITAD service provider who could prepare working equipment for reuse. Donations to charities and staff benefit programs are other options to extend the life of equipment. It is best to partner with a reputable service provider that will not only prepare machines for reuse, but will help with the data destruction.

Circular economy initiatives help businesses keep IT assets in use for longer, extracting the maximum value from those electronics while in use. They can then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their useful life.

Certified recycling

Recycling is the perfect way to improve sustainability goals. However, beware of dubious recyclers. It is important to partner with a credible, accredited and certified recycler because after all, they will be handling many of your data bearing devices.

Most industries have certifications to help maintain a high level of standards, especially in the electronic recycling and ITAD space. Familiar accreditations and certifications include ISO 9001, 14001 and 45001 specifically for ITAD, as well as Adisa, R2 and e-Stewards.

* ISO 9001 Quality management systems: Recyclers use this standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.

* R2v3 certification: This is a voluntary sustainability standard that certifies responsible electronics processors. IT Asset Managers partnering with ITAD companies with R2v3-certified infrastructure can have increased confidence that their sensitive data is destroyed, that electronics with residual value will be reused, and that their assets won’t end up in a landfill or in a dumping ground in some remote country.

* e-Stewards certification was introduced in 2009 by the Basel Action Network (BAN). The BAN was founded with the aim of improving recyclers adherence to the Basel Convention.

* ADISA’s IT Asset Recovery Certification: Recently updated to version 8, it is a UK-developed global standard for ITAD providers. The current version of the standard is approved by the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) as a UK GDPR certification scheme.

All these standards cover environmental management, occupational and public health and safety, and support the implementation of legal, regulatory and policy frameworks.

It is important to note the difference between an accreditation and membership of a Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO). The former is a qualification with annual audits to driver innovation and guarantee professionalism whereas the latter is a scheme that is established to provide financial assistance to recyclers for unprofitable e-waste streams.

Example of PROs and membership in South Africa that do not require qualifications or audits include:

* Ewasa – PRO: Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) members pay an annual fee and pledge to conform to a code of ethics and a certificate is issued.

* R2E2: Requirements unspecified but a certificate is issued.

* Ewaste Recycling Authority: NPC membership is free and an onboarding process to disclose details of your recycling operation.

Sustainability reporting

The importance of sustainability reporting is on the rise amid efforts to assess, quantify and communicate environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) metrics, and progress toward net-zero carbon emissions and other sustainability goals.

ITAD initiatives are an excellent way to achieve sustainability goals but this opportunity is often missed because collecting information from various divisions or from ITAD and recycling partners could pose a challenge.

Proper sustainability reporting needs to be done to align with your sustainability metrics and goals. This could be done through a reputable qualified and certified ITAD provider and should include specific data of equipment that is reused, resold, donated and recycled.