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How to reduce your eWaste footprint

In the first series of the Small Business Success series AAMI presents instalment ten: ‘Growing Technology vs. Expanding eWaste’ Part One.

How often do you enter into a new purchase for a new laptop and think about where it will end up in three years? Or what about what is going to happen to all the old computers sitting in the garage gathering dust, or the boxes of printers that are stacked in company storage? Unlike cars, which have a much longer shelf life than other manufactured products, office technology is moving faster than their own decomposition rate, with electronic waste (eWaste) rising three times the normal rate of household rubbish.

So what can small business owners do to be socially responsible and ensure that their business is reducing their carbon footprint? Some 70 percent of unused and outdated computers are sitting in storage with a questionable disposable status – which usually means that they will end up in landfill because most people are either too busy or are unsure of where to dispose of eWaste justly.

Why is eWaste hard to break down?

Australians buy between 2-4 million computers annually. Without getting into the heavy science of electronic waste break down, know that whatever ends up in landfill will take a long time to break down; hundreds, thousands of years – potentially longer. This is because most office technology is made up with a polymer makeup, such as the plastic used in making keyboards and monitors, and means it is highly resistant to the natural processes of breaking down.

What are the common materials found in eWaste?

  • Silicon – microchips
  • Copper – circuit boards
  • Carbon – printer inks and toners
  • Cadmium – printer inks and toners
  • Mercury – computer monitors
  • Lead – circuit board soldering
  • Plastic – monitor, keyboard, computer shell

How can small businesses reduce eWaste? 

Less and less organisations want to be lumbered with old technology yet surprisingly some charities and non-for-profit organisations will not accept donations of computers, monitors, and printers. If business owners find their office equipment is beyond the life of passing onto friends or family, or using themselves after RAM upgrades, thoughts should extend to whether the item is still in good working condition or whether it is no longer fit for use. This will determine whether the item is ‘moved on’ to another person or organisation, or distributed to electronic waste recycling.

Sale and free classifieds

Depending on how old the technology is there are many tech-geeks active on eBay who buy old computers for parts. As an extra incentive to get rid of old electronics, you could offer free postage or drop off to ensure a swift moving listing. If you’re looking to give away to freebie sites look under online classifieds such as Gumtree, Cracker, and QuickSales which facilitate free listings for people giving away old computers and technology.

Spare backups

You’ll be surprised how handy an old monitor can be when there is a technology disruption within a business. It is recommended to store at least one as a backup, or for a guest visiting the office looking to connect their laptop. A backup printer and PC/laptop is always recommended to keep in storage, or on hand, for when the business is interrupted with a technical outage.

Electronic waste recycling

This is the most environmentally friendly option as it ensures that electronic waste is not distributed to landfill, rather it is sent specifically to recycling centres for old office technology. There are several companies around Australia which list options for collection and drop off facilities. There may be a fee involved but it is a worthwhile environmental investment knowing that your business is contributing to the longevity of the environment through the removal of a small carbon footprint.

Planet Ark Recycling Campaigns Manager Janet Sparrow comments that availability to eWaste recycling resources has never been easier.

“It’s never been easier for small businesses to start recycling their e-waste. It’s a great way to reduce your footprint, it keeps valuable materials in the economy, and it ensures toxic materials stay out of our environment. There are a number of great eWaste recycling programs that businesses can participate in – free of charge. The Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program provides free printer cartridge collection boxes to eligible businesses, and registration in the MobileMuster program will means you’ll receive a free mobile phone collection tube for your workplace.”

Continued next week in Part Two: ‘Growing Technology vs. Expanding E-Waste’ in the Small Business series AAMI discusses common approaches to electronic waste management and social responsibility.

This article is presented by Australian Associated Motor Insurers Ltd (AAMI, ABN 92 004 791 744), the issuer of AAMI property insurance products.