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E-waste Regulations: Sustainable, Green, and Secure

Jacqueline Lee| October 25 2016

| IT insights

e-waste-regulations-green-electronicsWhen disposing of electronic equipment, IT has to think not only about environmentally friendly disposal but also compliance concerns. For example, HIPAA regulations, as explained by HealthITSecurity, require entities that handle personal health information (PHI) to protect PHI during the disposal process. IT can either overwrite PHI or purge it, through degaussing or strong magnetic exposure, or completely destroy the device.

Half of all U.S. states, including Washington, D.C., have passed some sort of e-waste regulations, according to the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC). Your state may not have specific e-waste rules, but for your own protection against regulatory fines, you should implement specific policies for disposing of equipment.

Internal E-waste Regulations to Prevent Data Loss

It's not logical to take extreme measures to protect connected network devices and then throw old devices in the garbage without wiping them. All obsolete equipment, from thumb drives to fax machines, should be wiped clean before being recycled.

Disposal firm Iron Mountain recommends preventing improper disposal by cataloging every piece of equipment you have. Then, develop a process for decommissioning your old equipment, which should include backing up its data, wiping the hard drive clean, disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way and logging its decommissioned status. Deleting data or reformatting hard drives isn't enough to protect sensitive data. You need to completely wipe the data to prevent unauthorized entities from obtaining it from your old equipment.

Related Article: Secure Deletion of Data Not So Secure? 

Additionally, don't just focus on servers and endpoints that you typically think of as containing sensitive data. Remember that fax machines, scanners, printers and copiers are all capable of storing data, and they need to be wiped as well.

Green IT Means Earth-Friendly Electronics Disposal

Cloud services and virtualization empower you to get more resources with less equipment. Less equipment means lower power consumption and fewer cooling concerns, enabling you to slash greenhouse emissions while saving on energy costs.

As data centers consolidate, the old equipment has to go somewhere, and a landfill just isn't the place. In some cases, the problem is simply landfill volume. Electronics are big, bulky and non-biodegradable. In other cases, harmful compounds are the problem. Certain obsolete technologies, like cathode ray tubes found in old monitors, contain lead that can potentially leak into groundwater. For these reasons, both local governments and manufacturers have developed options for recycling old equipment.

According to the EPA, recycling 1 million laptops saves the same amount of energy as taking 3,500 U.S. homes off the grid. For every 1 million cellphones recycled, recyclers can recover 33 pounds of palladium, 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver and 35,000 pounds of copper. Even so, as recently as 2012, the EPA says just one-third of electronics were recycled. The rest ended up in landfills.

Retailers and OEMs

The EPA's Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge rewards manufacturers, retailers and brand owners that send 100 percent of their used electronics collections to certified electronics refurbishers and recyclers. Many organizations that haven't applied for SMM Electronics Challenge recognition still provide periodic events, ongoing in-store dropoff for old equipment or online recycling alternatives. The EPA provides a list of these organizations on its website.

State and Local Governments

Many states that have implemented e-waste regulations also offer easy ways to dispose of electronics. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) maintains an e-cycling website, which lists available e-cycling locations all over the U.S. You can take equipment to these stations as needed, and you can also check your state and local listings for community e-cycling events.

Private Disposal Firms

If you choose a private firm to get rid of your old equipment, look for a company that meets one or both certification standards accepted by the EPA:

It's All About Sustainability

Keeping your business sustainable for years to come means not only taking care of the earth – after all, destroying the environment destroys your customer and resource base – but also ensuring that data theft doesn't bring down your business in a storm of litigation and costly fines. Whether or not your state has e-waste regulations, implement your own. Give your business a sustainable future.

Topics: IT insights

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