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IT Recycling: Where Corporate Responsibility and Cybersecurity Intersect

Properly recycling IT assets is a practice that most major corporations are aware of and abide by – with some exceptions. It is currently legal in the United States for any company to ship their old electronics to Asia or Africa. This is where developing nations with loose regulations on e-waste take old product and dispose of it in ways that are not only unsafe for the environment, but unsafe in terms of cybersecurity as well.

This is a huge concern with sweeping implications for companies and individuals worldwide.  E-waste is the fastest growing type of waste, as one group within the United Nations has predicted a whopping 48.2 million metric tons will be created in 2017 – the equivalent to 100 Empire State Buildings.

This is because most companies undergo a product refresh every four to five years, leading to a need for asset disposal companies who can take on the old product and give it a second life in the secondary market, or have it properly disposed of. These companies will properly destruct the data on the machines, wiping them clean before they are taken to their next step of resell or recycle. Recycling companies can also destruct data (mostly by destructing the equipment beyond repair) before they turn the refuse into raw materials for reuse like copper, lead, steel, plastic and aluminum.

This is the proper path for organizations to take as it comes to e-waste. And most corporations do chose this path, but sometimes unethical recyclers do not uphold their promise to ensure the proper disposal of equipment as it a lucrative path to sell highly-coveted U.S. e-waste materials to China.

But this has unfortunate consequences that can come back to haunt them, as well as others. The waste that is improperly disposed of is fair game to its next owner – regardless as to whether or not the sensitive data of employees or customers, or other company secrets have been wiped. Furthermore, there are counterfeit parts that have been creeping into the supply chains as a result of e-waste salvaged in China. So, while some companies tried to send garbage away to forget about it and wipe their hands clean of it, or hired unethical recyclers to do the same, counterfeit chips and other parts tend to make their way back.

This also has larger implications for national security. Some of the counterfeit electronic parts being created from e-waste originating in the United States were found in thermal weapons sights, night vision goggles, and even advanced missile systems, aircraft and submarines, as reported in The Hill.

What are the Odds?

How often does e-waste get sent overseas after seemingly being “recycled”? One watchdog group, Basel Action Network, placed GPS trackers on hundreds of dummy devices, and sent them through recycling networks throughout the United States. They found that 40 percent of 152 of the tracked deliveries were exported offshore, with most of them landing in junkyards found in Hong Kong’s New Territories. While it is legal to ship waste overseas in the United States, doing so does violate the Basel Convention, which is an international agreement put into place in order to discourage developed nations from dumping their e-waste in such a manner.

Major companies like Google are stepping up to address this issue with its “zero waste” initiative that strikes to rid 86 percent of the waste from its 14 data centers away from landfills and into more sustainable paths. In addition to recycling, the company is looking for asset management and repair solutions for its current hardware, including its servers. Last year, 75 percent of the parts used to fix Google’s hardware came from refurbished technology.

While it is great to take the path of Google by employing some of these practices, like utilizing refurbished technology to extend the lifecycles of existing hardware, sometimes upgrades are necessary. When selecting an ITAD (IT asset disposal) company, choose a service provider who will uphold your initiatives as it comes to your carbon footprint, as well as cybersecurity.

Is your company looking for IT asset disposal solutions? Contact us to see how we can help find solutions that will bring you the greatest return, while also upholding the security, and moral integrity standards set by your organization.