Scientists make technological breakthrough that could prevent tons of hazardous e-waste

Leslie Sattler, TheCoolDown.com, June 26, 2024

It’s a win-win for both our wallets and our environment.

Imagine a world where your old phone or laptop doesn’t end up clogging a landfill but instead gets a new lease on life.

That’s the promise of an exciting breakthrough from researchers at the University of Washington, according to Anthropocene Magazine.

The heart of an electronic device is the circuit board. These boards are made of tough plastics that make them difficult to recycle. As a result, hundreds of thousands of tons of circuit boards get dumped in landfills each year as gadgets become obsolete. Burning this e-waste to recover valuable metals creates toxic pollution that harms our air, soil, and water.

The UW researchers solved this problem by replacing the typical epoxy plastic in circuit boards with a special material called a vitrimer. When heated, vitrimers can flow and form new bonds, allowing them to be recycled repeatedly without losing integrity.

To recycle the boards, they simply soak them in a solvent and heat them up. The vitrimer softens, allowing the raw materials to be separated and reused in new circuit boards. In tests, the team recovered an impressive 98% of the vitrimer and 91% of the solvent.

“We have created a new formulation for circuit boards that has performance on par with the industry standard material and can be recycled repeatedly without degradation,” said Vikram Iyer, a professor of computer science and engineering who co-authored the study, in the journal Nature Sustainability.

To access the full article, click here.

Learn more about ReturnCenter’s commitment to sustainability.

Buried Alive, Office Edition. How to manage your business’s IT equipment during transition

We open with scenarios familiar to many: surplus IT equipment is stuffed into a utility closet and ignored until it’s absolutely necessary to handle it. Or maybe your office is moving and the old equipment is not coming with you. These scenarios come with their own sets of complexities and headaches, but with careful planning and the right approach, they can be managed effectively.

Whether you’re in HR, IT, or another management role, it’s likely you’ve encountered the issue of unused IT equipment. How do you ensure your company’s data bearing equipment is safe and secure during transit or disposal? And just as important, how can you make sure you’re not causing a negative environmental impact?

No matter the reason behind your mounting piles of tech, the handling of company hardware can be overwhelming. If equipment is not actively in use or no longer functional it can be especially tempting to either leave it for the next employee or find the closest dumpster.

However, you should be aware that the world’s generation of electronic waste is rising five times faster than documented e-waste recycling1, and leaving the issue to be dealt with by someone else in the future increases the potential for improper disposal. Whether or not your organization has goals around sustainability, effective IT asset management can be a positive addition to any impact report.

ReturnCenter understands the importance of efficiently managing hardware during transition while prioritizing data security and environmental sustainability. Our suite of services is designed to alleviate the burden and streamline the process for professionals facing these challenges.

Here are some practical ideas for dealing with office moves, closures, or surplus equipment:

Assessment and Inventory: Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of all hardware and IT equipment. Take inventory of what needs to be retained, recycled, or securely disposed of. Considerations should also be taken for software. Identifying software assets no longer in use will allow you to cancel them, avoid subscription fees, and reduce costs. This step lays the foundation for an organized and efficient process moving forward.

If your teams use an application like ServiceNow for asset lifecycle management, you may find related historical data as well as other tools to help you manage your software and hardware needing attention.

The ReturnCenter app for ServiceNow extends this capability by allowing ServiceNow users to schedule the transportation of hardware assets to any of the destinations we talk about further in this blog.

Data Sanitization: Prioritize data security by ensuring all sensitive information stored on devices is properly sanitized or destroyed. Remove hard drives, utilize data wiping software or engage a certified data destruction service to safeguard against data breaches.

Options for your IT equipment

Reuse and Repurpose: Explore opportunities to reuse or repurpose equipment within the organization. Consider reallocating devices to other offices or departments where they can continue to serve a purpose, thus maximizing their lifecycle and reducing unnecessary waste.

The ReturnCenter Box Program is ideal for moving equipment from one business location to another with custom boxes, prepaid shipping labels and a dashboard for central tracking.

Donation: For equipment that is still functional but no longer needed, consider donating it to charitable organizations. This not only benefits the community but also reduces electronic waste. It’s important to remember that data sanitization continues to be vital in this scenario. If you’re looking for recommendations on this process, get in touch.

Recycling: Properly recycle any obsolete or non-functional equipment to minimize environmental impact. Partner with certified e-waste recycling facilities or IT asset disposition companies to ensure responsible disposal in accordance with regulatory standards. SERI and e-Stewards are two organizations leading the way in proper electronics recycling.

Engage ReturnCenter: Leverage the expertise and resources of ReturnCenter to streamline the process of handling company hardware. Our box program offers a convenient solution for retrieving and shipping individual IT assets, ideal for remote users or dispersed office closures.

Alternatively, our Onsite IT Equipment Pack and Ship service provides comprehensive logistics support, including packing, pickup, and transportation, tailored to your specific needs. Choose from a range of white-glove services, such as palletizing and tagging, for added security and peace of mind. Learn more.

With a little help, the process can be easy

Navigating office moves, closures, or surplus equipment can be challenging, but with careful planning and the right support, it can also present opportunities for growth and optimization. By prioritizing data security, environmental responsibility, and efficiency, professionals can successfully navigate these transitions while setting the stage for future success.

At ReturnCenter, we’re committed to simplifying the process and empowering businesses to manage change with confidence. No matter your scenario, our comprehensive services are here to support you every step of the way. Reach out to our team today to learn more about how we can help streamline your transition and ensure a seamless experience from start to finish.

 If you’d like to read more about creating effective offboarding policies surrounding IT, check out our recent blog “Mastering Remote Offboarding: Best Practices for IT Asset Managers.”

  1. Global E-Waste Monitor 2024

6 surprising facts from the UN’s 2024 electronic waste report

Global e-waste is growing 5 times faster than recycling

6 surprising facts from the UN’s 2024 electronic waste report, Lucas Gutterman, PIRG.org, April 11, 2024

Electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world and includes anything with a plug or a battery. Now, our work to curb e-waste is gaining momentum. Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signed the nation’s strongest Right to Repair legislation in March. Similar laws will go into effect in California and Minnesota in July. We’ve been campaigning to reduce this waste because of the unique ways that electronics manufacturing and e-waste threaten our health, climate and environment.

It’s been four years since the UN released the previous version of its authoritative international report on e-waste. Here are six of the most surprising facts from the United Nations’ 2024 Global E-Waste Monitor which underscore the urgency of our campaign:

1. The United Nations announces vape waste is a ‘major e-waste contributor’ and it’s getting worse.

Disposable e-cigarettes, better known as vapes, have become a pervasive part of our society. The vape market is expected to grow by 31% annually until 2030 and vape waste could grow at an equally dangerous rate.

Nothing used for a day or two should pollute our environment for hundreds of years. According to CDC Foundation sales estimates, lining-up the disposable vapes sold in a year would stretch for 7,000 miles—long enough to span the continental U.S. twice. Because there is no standard legal way to recycle these products, many users just toss them. U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Vape Waste report found that Americans throw out 4.5 disposable vapes per second.

To access the full article, click here.

To learn more about ReturnCenter’s commitment to reducing global e-waste visit our Sustainability Page.

Mastering Remote Offboarding: Best Practices for IT Asset Managers

Shawn Stockman, Vice President of Sustainability Solutions, Onepak/ReturnCenter, May 15, 2024

Remote work is not going away. According to Forbes Advisor, by 2025, 32.6 million Americans (22%) will work remotely (16% of U.S. companies already operate fully remote).

At Onepak, we hear stories every week from our prospects and clients about their challenges recovering IT assets from remote employees. Most of those sad tales relate to offboarding remote employees who fail to return the company-issued equipment.

Some companies even have trouble getting laptops back from hybrid or in-office employees because the departing employee doesn’t fully appreciate that their laptop is actually owned by the company and is not theirs to take home anymore.

In order to establish an effective remote offboarding program for IT asset managers (ITAMs), there are some basic questions to consider:

– What is the company policy that governs which assets to recover and which to let the remote user keep?

– Have all the risks of this policy (if it exists) been thoroughly identified and accounted for?

– Where do the responsibilities of HR end and IT begin?

– Who is ultimately responsible for employee equipment getting back to your company?

Can you actually map out the workflows involved from end to end?

These questions should be centered around three areas: policy, processes and systems.

First, in order to have an effective company policy for equipment recovery from remote employees, the ITAM has the opportunity to facilitate the process of policy formation by bringing together the stakeholders: HR, finance, IT, security operations, and corporate social responsibility.

You may wonder why anyone from corporate social responsibility may need to have a say in this endeavor. It has to do with managing and measuring risks and trade-offs relative to ESG:

E – Environmental impact of unrecovered assets
S – Community/social impacts
G – Putting policies in place to govern what actions will be taken

To oversimplify, the bottom line is that if your organization purchased equipment and provided it to the employee, your organization is responsible for the impact those assets have, both environmentally and socially. Deciding, for example, not to take back monitors that you provided to remote workers means that you lose control of the ultimate disposition of those assets. And your approach to instructing them on how to dispose of it comes with varying risks:

If you simply instruct them to take it to a local Goodwill, for example, you have no way to ever know if that happened.

If you give them a QR code to take it to a parcel carrier at the end of the monitor’s life, where the carrier will package it up and send it to a recycler, at least you can track how many ever came back.

If you give them the means to return it with their data-bearing device at the time of offboarding, you have the highest chance of recovery and the least risk that the monitor will wind up in a landfill or a bayou.

Some companies find a way to artfully dodge their responsibility and ease the onboarding process, by simply providing the remote worker with the funds to go purchase their own monitor when they start their employment (or begin remote work) so that if the worker purchases one, they are then responsible for its ultimate disposition.

From a policy perspective, this is a question of how much your company is willing to spend to be a good corporate citizen by taking responsibility for its equipment out in the world. The folks who work in corporate social responsibility, who are the ones charged with reporting impact metrics to ESG frameworks (and now to the SEC for public companies), will want to have a say in what steps are being taken to minimize environmental impact and how you can measure that.

Data-bearing assets, of course, bring a whole different set of risks and trade-offs. From a security perspective, any device that may have held company data at one time poses a risk of data exposure. If you are in healthcare, there are HIPAA compliance considerations, and for public companies there are SARBOX compliance concerns. If the device had ever been on a VPN, it remains a potential access point for a hack. And don’t forget the software licenses that may still be on that device that could be reassigned elsewhere.

If you don’t recover data-bearing assets, there are the expected environmental impact concerns, but you should also consider social impact trade-offs (that is the “S” of ESG).

For example, could you have donated assets to targeted community use? Your ESG team may have priorities around community impact that could direct those reusable assets to address digital equity or benefit K-12 education, veterans or the elderly.

Could those assets have been made available to current employees at low cost? That has its own social impact as an employee benefit.

At the end of the day, the policy driving offboarding practices needs to reflect the priorities and risk tolerances of the entire organization. From an ITAM perspective, the policy should be specific about:

Reasons why the policy exists—objectives to be achieved (or risks to minimize)

Asset types covered (and specifically NOT covered)

User stories – under what circumstances or use cases does it come into play?

Ramifications if policies are not followed—who is ultimately accountable?

The stakeholders involved in policy development are often the same individuals tasked with its execution. After establishing a policy, the next step involves identifying processes, workflows, and responsible parties to ensure successful implementation.

For example, let’s say your asset recovery process involves sending a shipping kit to the remote worker large enough for their laptop, monitor, and all peripherals (good for you!). And the process includes a planned set of reminders once the shipping kit has delivered (perhaps an email the day after box delivery with instructions and positive reinforcement for helping your company meet its responsibilities). If the return tracking number is not activated within a few more days, perhaps send them a text message. If a week goes by, have someone call them. We have found that such reminder programs increase takeback by at least 10 percent (do the math on that!).

The kicker is, none of that is possible unless HR has captured the remote worker’s personal email address and mobile phone number BEFORE departure. The odds of getting it after disengagement are low. Remember, if they did not leave the company voluntarily, they have little incentive to help you. You’ve lost your leverage, which means you need to make it as easy as possible for them to comply.

So the real remote offboarding process starts way before a worker departs. Having the right data that enables the ITAM to maximize the chances of asset recovery is crucial. And where is that data?

The processes that you put in place will rely on systems to execute workflows. And those systems need to work together for you to be successful. For example, we have a client who uses Workday for HR and ServiceNow for hardware asset management, and our ReturnCenter app in ServiceNow to send out shipping kits. Here’s that workflow:

7 ways to boost e-waste recycling – and why it matters

Johnny Wood, WEForum.com, April 15, 2024

Technological advancements continue to transform our world, but the result is a cascade of unwanted devices that are becoming the fastest-growing waste stream on the planet.

Global e-waste almost doubled in the past 12 years reaching 62 billion kilogrammes (kg) in 2022, and is projected to increase to 82 billion kg by 2030.

The total of 62 billion kg of e-waste generated in 2022 is enough to fill 1.55 million 25-metre-long trucks forming a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam stretching 40,000 kilometres around Earth’s equator, according to The Global E-waste Monitor 2024 report produced by the United Nations.

However, just over 22% of all that waste was formally collected and recycled, the report notes.

Our discarded phones, tablets, laptops and other gadgets are worth $62.5 billion each year and, per tonne, contain 100 times more gold than the same weight of gold ore. And, yet, only about one-fifth of the world’s e-waste is recycled.

But here are seven initiatives aimed at boosting e-waste recycling rates to reuse the valuable metals and minerals contained in our old devices.

1. Colorful collections

Cambridge City Council in the UK now provides bright pink bins to collect residents’ discarded small electrical goods and reduce the quantity of e-waste that ends up in regular recycling collections.

These appliances cannot be included in curbside recycling bins, but they contain much-needed materials like copper and lithium.

Around 49 tonnes of small electrical appliances have been deposited into the eye-catching collection bins since they were installed in 2022, ready for reuse or recycling.

To access the full article, click here. 

Learn more about how ReturnCenter is helping address the e-waste crisis through our services.

Colorado’s latest Right to Repair bill passed

Colorado passed its 3rd Right to Repair bill, extending the right to fix everything from blenders to computers. The bill heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Danny Katz, PIRG.org, April 2024

UPDATE – the Colorado legislature passed the bill on Tuesday, April 30. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Colorado is poised to add consumer and business electronics to the list of items that Coloradans have the Right to Repair and can get the tools, parts, diagnostics and software access to fix.

The state has already enshrined the Right to Repair around agricultural equipment and powered wheelchairs. Coloradans also enjoy some Right to Repair protections around vehicles thanks to multiple actions in Massachusetts.

We’re calling on the Governor to sign HB24-1121 – Colorado’s consumer electronics Right to Repair bill.

What is Right to Repair?

Everything breaks at some point. When our products fail, we deserve the right to choose what we do with them. The goal of Right to Repair reform is to empower consumers, letting us choose when, where, and how we fix our products.

Right to Repair legislation ensures consumers and independent repair businesses have access to replacement parts, software, and documentation to safely make repairs to products, from powered-wheelchairs and tractors to smartphones and laptops to washing machines and IT equipment.

This gives the owner of the product a choice in how repairs are made, and that can save us time and money while reducing the amount of waste that we produce.

Imagine a ‘smart’ vacuum cleaner that refuses to run because we dared to replace a filter bag ourselves instead of bringing it to an ‘authorized’ service center.Wayne Seltzer, Fixit Clinic organizer

To access the full article, click here.

To learn more about ReturnCenter and our commitment to growing the circular economy, visit our sustainability page. 

The World’s E-Waste Has Reached a Crisis Point

A new UN report finds that humanity is generating 137 billion pounds of TVs, smartphones, and other e-waste a year—and recycling less than a quarter of it.

Matt Simon, Wired.com, March 20, 2024

The phone or computer you’re reading this on may not be long for this world. Maybe you’ll drop it in water, or your dog will make a chew toy of it, or it’ll reach obsolescence. If you can’t repair it and have to discard it, the device will become e-waste, joining an alarmingly large mountain of defunct TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, cameras, routers, electric toothbrushes, headphones. This is “electrical and electronic equipment,” aka EEE—anything with a plug or battery. It’s increasingly out of control.

As economies develop and the consumerist lifestyle spreads around the world, e-waste has turned into a full-blown environmental crisis. People living in high-income countries own, on average, 109 EEE devices per capita, while those in low-income nations have just four. A new UN report finds that in 2022, humanity churned out 137 billion pounds of e-waste—more than 17 pounds for every person on Earth—and recycled less than a quarter of it.

That also represents about $62 billion worth of recoverable materials, like iron, copper, and gold, hitting e-waste landfills each year. At this pace, e-waste will grow by 33 percent by 2030, while the recycling rate could decline to 20 percent. (You can see this growth in the graph below: purple is EEE on the market, black is e-waste, and green is what gets recycled.)

“What was really alarming to me is that the speed at which this is growing is much quicker than the speed that e-waste is properly collected and recycled,” says Kees Baldé, a senior scientific specialist at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and lead author of the report. “We just consume way too much, and we dispose of things way too quickly. We buy things we may not even need, because it’s just very cheap. And also these products are not designed to be repaired.”

Humanity has to quickly bump up those recycling rates, the report stresses. In the first pie chart below, you can see the significant amount of metals we could be saving, mostly iron (chemical symbol Fe, in light gray), along with aluminum (Al, in dark gray), copper (Cu), and nickel (Ni). Other EEE metals include zinc, tin, and antimony. Overall, the report found that in 2022, generated e-waste contained 68 billion pounds of metal.

To access the full article, click here. 

To learn about ReturnCenter and how we’re tackling the e-waste crisis, visit our About Us Page.

Universities swapping energy sources to geothermal now a growing trend

Universities swapping energy sources to geothermal now a growing trend

The “power of the Earth” provides some of the most sustainable energy options.

Julia Jacobo, ABCNews.go.com, March 1, 2024

Some of the most established universities in the country are switching to sustainable energy to power their campuses in an effort to meet climate goals.

Bard College, a private liberal arts college in New York’s Hudson Valley, has broken ground on a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system that will replace the decaying oil system that was previously powering the Charles P. Stevenson Jr, Library, the school announced earlier this week.

t is one of many colleges utilizing ground geothermal source technology that installs pumps in the ground that then circulates a temperature-adjusted fluid to the surface using a series of pipes in a closed-loop system.

Geothermal energy is “one of the oldest forms of energy in the book,” previously used by the Romans, Native Americans and ancient Chinese civilizations, Caitlin Grady, an assistant professor of engineering management and systems at George Washington University, told ABC News. The energy is also a prime example of using the planet’s natural resources to generate power, she said.

“You’re talking about using gravity and water to power buildings … using what the Earth has to offer for free,” Grady said.

Bard’s newest project will consist of 50 boreholes drilled to a depth of 500 feet, which will contain the geothermal loops and thermally enhanced grout, according to Brightcore.

The school, founded in 1860, has been incorporating geothermal energy into its new buildings since the 1980s. But this is the first time a legacy building — previously powered by oil-fire boiler plant and conventional chiller system — will be retrofit for geothermal energy.

To access the full article, click here.

 

Cheese Byproduct Transforms E-Waste into Gold

Cheese Byproduct Transforms E-Waste into Gold: ETH Zurich’s Groundbreaking Innovation

BNN Correspondents, BNNBreaking.com, February 29, 2024

ETH Zurich researchers develop a novel method to extract gold from e-waste using cheesemaking byproducts, paving the way for sustainable technology.

In an astonishing leap towards sustainable technology, researchers led by Professor Raffaele Mezzenga at ETH Zurich have developed a novel method to extract gold from electronic waste using a byproduct of the cheesemaking process. This innovative approach not only promises to revolutionize gold recovery but also offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution to a growing global challenge.

From Dairy to Gold: The Science Behind the Innovation

The team, including senior scientist Mohammad Peydayesh, has ingeniously utilized denatured whey proteins to create a sponge capable of extracting gold from the acid-dissolved metal parts of old computer motherboards. The method hinges on the proteins’ ability to form nanofibrils that adhere to gold ions more efficiently than to other metals. Following the absorption process, the gold ions are reduced to flakes and then melted down to form a nugget. Remarkably, the researchers obtained a 450-milligram nugget of 91 percent pure gold from just 20 motherboards, demonstrating the method’s efficiency and potential for scalability.

To access the full article, click here.

These Are the Climate Grannies. They’ll Do Whatever It Takes to Protect Their Grand children

Jessica Kutz, InsideClimateNews.org, February 3, 2024

They have the generational wisdom, environmental activism experience, free time—and they’re not afraid of getting arrested.

Hazel Chandler was at home taking care of her son when she began flipping through a document that detailed how burning fossil fuels would soon jeopardize the planet.

She can’t quite remember who gave her the report — this was in 1969 — but the moment stands out to her vividly: After reading a list of extreme climate events that would materialize in the coming decades, she looked down at the baby she was nursing, filled with dread.

“‘Oh my God, I’ve got to do something,’” she remembered thinking.

It was one of several such moments throughout Chandler’s life that propelled her into activist spaces — against the Vietnam War, for civil rights and women’s rights, and in support of other environmental causes.

She participated in letter-writing campaigns and helped gather others to write to legislators about vital pieces of environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, passed in 1970 and 1972, respectively. At the child care center she worked at, she helped plan celebrations around the first Earth Day in 1970.

Now at 78, after working in child care and health care for most of her life, she’s more engaged than ever. In 2015, she began volunteering with Elder Climate Action, which focuses on activating older people to fight for the environment. She then took a job as a consultant for the Union for Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization.

To access the full article, click here.