The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all sorts of changes. From the way we eat to the way we work, our lives have been greatly altered. Though most people do not stop and think about it much, even the way we dispose of trash has changed. The pandemic is causing some startling changes to the amount and type of electronic waste that businesses produce. This shift is having a big impact on the way companies handle electronics recycling.
E-Waste Production on the Rise During COVID-19
Electronic waste is the most rapidly growing type of waste throughout the world. As we update to newer computers, phones, printers, and other devices, we end up with useless and outdated items. Most of the time, these items just end up in a landfill, even though it is possible for them to be recycled or repaired. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused this cycle to accelerate drastically.
According to a survey of hundreds of companies, the shift to remote work has made many places realize their technology was outdated. Therefore, companies had to start purchasing new laptops, tablets, and other devices for employees to use at home. This then caused employees to discard their older, outdated equipment, generating massive amounts of e-waste. Though the biggest e-waste producers are large companies, individual consumers are also contributing to e-waste as well. With many people buying new gaming consoles, televisions, and other entertainment devices, more e-waste is happening in households too.
In 2020, record high amounts of e-waste were produced. Altogether, the UN Environment Program reports that 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were made in the last year. This is a concerning 21% percent increase in e-waste production. Sadly, much of this e-waste was discarded even though it still had value. The total amount of raw materials discarded as e-waste last year had a value of roughly $57 billion.
Lack of Communication on E-Waste Policies Is Hampering Many Companies
Unfortunately, few businesses have been prepared for the heightened amounts of e-waste. Research found that only 36 percent of businesses in the U.S. even have an e-waste policy in place. Furthermore, almost half of the businesses with policies did not know how to communicate about their policies.
This lack of centralization leads to big problems for businesses. In many companies, employees end up just throwing out old electronics because the company has never set a firm policy in place for handling e-waste. Even if there is a policy on the books, many people at the company might not have heard about the guidelines. Employees report that they are often unaware their business offers e-waste recycling and other services.
COVID-19 Is Also Causing an Increased Need for Data Destruction
An interesting fact about COVID e-waste is that it is far more likely to contain sensitive material. Prior to the pandemic, many companies had strict security policies that ensured private information was only stored on paper files or company servers. However, with so many people working from home now, sensitive data storage is no longer centralized. Instead, just about any computer owned by a worker may have proprietary company information and private customer data on it.
This adds a new facet to any e-waste disposal. Simply tossing the device in a trash can is no longer a safe option. Doing so can easily allow the wrong information to get into the wrong hands, costing companies large amounts of money. Companies who want to maintain appropriate security standards are realizing they also need to invest in data destruction services.
More Companies Are Creating New Roles Specifically for Handling E-Waste
All these statistics might seem concerning, but the good news is that many businesses are rising to the occasion. Companies are starting to realize that their approach to electronics disposal has been extremely inefficient. Surveys indicate that 47 percent of businesses have started creating new roles just to handle e-waste policies. The fields that are most focused on e-waste include finance and legal industries, where the need for security is especially high.
There is a lot of variation in the types of e-waste guidelines companies are starting to enact. Some smaller businesses might just set a few new policies in place and have an HR or office management employee start monitoring electronic disposal in the workplace. Others are going as far as creating entire new departments. For larger companies, simply handling electronics disposal may be a massive task that requires extensive policy changes and procedures.
Looking Toward the Post-Pandemic Future
Of course many people hope that the rise in e-waste during COVID-19 is a temporary anomaly. However, it is unlikely that e-waste will drop significantly just because the pandemic is over. There are a few reasons to continue paying close attention to e-waste. First of all, e-waste levels have been on the rise for years by now. As companies switch to a model of constant upgrades instead of repairs, electronics tend to have a shorter and shorter lifespan. Even after the pandemic ends, there will still be increasingly large amounts of tech that need replacing.
Furthermore, the remote work that has triggered so much e-waste production is likely to keep happening. Businesses are realizing that it is actually possible for them to conduct business efficiently while people work from home. And since many employees prefer remote work, companies are considering making the switch permanent. A survey of businesses found that one third of firms believed they would continue remote work following the pandemic. This means that companies will still need to focus on providing more electronics and finding ways of safely handling outdated tech.
If you are interested in learning how to recycle your electronics, Potomac eCycle is here to help. As a full service, R2/RIOS certified, electronic waste company, we help with every step of e-waste disposal. From picking up products to destroying sensitive material, we ensure your e-waste is handled appropriately. Contact us today to learn more about our services.