Equipment refresh cycles are the lifeblood of tech but what drives growth and revenue for the semiconductor and electronics industry is also an environmental challenge. The electronics industry is known for the rapid rate of improvement and ever-shorter life-cycles for end products. Electronic waste (e-waste) is a real issue because of the hazardous materials used, bulk and danger when deposited into landfills, the impossibility of decomposition, and most importantly, the real threats to human health and life as well as pollution when scavenged by hand as happens far too often.
There are, of course the European Union lead, and more widely adopted, Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives that were initiated in 2003 and have been through recent revisions. These directives have helped raise the awareness of the e-waste issues globally and have curtailed a great amount of e-waste from being thrown into landfills. However, the problem of e-waste continues and with strong adoption of more smart devices globally, and the increased penetration of electronics into daily appliances and devices, there is a similarly growing amount of e-waste we must responsibly handle.
Smart IoT adding to e-waste bulk
As Evertiq recently reminded us in their reporting of the recent United Nations (UN) study, also reported by Reuters, despite RoHS and WEEE directives that have been adopted by many countries, there are significant and growing problems regarding the amount of e-waste that is being discarded, particularly by the US and China:
The United States led e-waste dumping with 7.1 million tonnes in 2014, ahead of China on 6.0 million and followed by Japan, Germany and India, it said. […]
Norway led per capita waste generation, with 28 kg (62 lbs) dumped per inhabitant, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark and Britain. On that ranking, the United States was ninth and China was not among a list of the top 40.
Among the problems (and potentials) for this e-waste is that there are significant amounts of reclaimable materials that can (and should) be reused in the event that the end-device itself is no longer able to be refurbished or remarketed. As the UN study offers, it is "[…] estimated that the discarded materials, including gold, silver, iron and copper, was worth some $52 billion. […] The gold alone was valued at $11.2 billion, with the precious metal used in devices because it is a good, non-corrosive conductor of electricity."
Unfortunately, the reclamation opportunity for these materials is a double-edged sword. It is a difficult and costly process to reclaim the valuable materials so many states and countries do not support that process, and instead sell the scrap to countries where cheap labor is exploited and the returns on the reclamation process are profitable. Sadly, this means that many people and children are put at risk engaged in crude and rudimentary reclamation of hand-picking through open scrap heaps and open-burning to recover the more valuable metals, etc. However, there are extremely hazardous materials such as mercury and lead in many of these discarded electronic devices which poses risks not just to those involved in the scrap reclamation but to the environment as well. The forecast for e-waste, due to the increase of electronics penetration into more devices (SmartLife and IoT) and into the hands of more people globally, remains a grim challenge as Reuters reports from the UN study:
Global volumes of e-waste were likely to rise by more than 20 percent to 50 million tonnes in 2018, driven by rising sales and shorter lifetimes of electronic equipment, the report said.
Responsible asset disposition and remarketing
So, what do we do along the semiconductor supply chain? Downstream for Consumer Electronics (CE), there are many recycling opportunities to return e-waste to OEMs and then that e-waste can be responsibly handled. Answering the question of what to do with inventory that is either excess, returned or no longer wanted (such as in the recycling drives), end of life (EOL), or similar is a real business problem for many organizations in the semiconductor and electronics industry. Smith has long considered these issues, written about secure asset disposition, and offered concerete business solutions.
At Smith, we saw early on that there are not only significant issues with counterfeiting but also with environmental and human health hazards when electronics are improperly discarded. As a result, Smith & Associates has long been a leader in providing a suite of quality-driven, asset disposition services for clients. Our expanding Global Services has grown out of the breadth of these asset disposition services. Smith believes in the opportunity to safely, securely and responsibly refurbish and remarket electronics equipment when appropriate and when expressly permissible. In this manner, we provide our customers the opportunity to realize ROI from their assets in a responsible manner that supports corporate environmental stewardship while also supporting their business goals. It is no secret that combining those forces is a win-win for real, actionable corporate sustainability management (CSM) to succeed.
Smith's Global Services include a suite of offerings that help companies get their equipment market-ready. Whether the IT equipment is new or used, needs components added, upgraded, reworked, or removed, Smith will ensure that it is tested, functional and ready for sale. Not only do we help recover ROI on these assets, but we are steadfast in supporting the reduction and eventual elimination of hazardous waste in order to be good stewards of our planet.
At Smith we are proud to participate in celebrating Earth Week and Earth Day because Smith's position on handling e-waste has always been clear:
At Smith, we believe in giving IT waste a second chance at life. Any scrap material is re-purposed rather than sent to landfills. We use only certified third party recycling partners who are EPA compliant, and we perform audits to confirm compliance to our standards for environmental protection. Our zero landfill, zero incineration and zero waste export recycling policies ensure that all materials are handled with the environment in mind. Materials are reused and recycled in a green manner.