What is e-Waste?
E-waste or electronic waste is the type of refuse that contains broken and unwanted electrical or electronic devices and peripherals. Common examples of e-waste include printer cartridges, batteries, dead mobile phones, broken television, monitors, and other such appliances.
Much of the generated e-waste finds place in landfills, and the toxic non-biodegradable ingredients inside such e-waste items raise a major environmental concern. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates more than four million tons of e-waste hitting landfills each year. An e-waste business that recycles e-waste is a business opportunity that offers much scope and helps reduce the health and environmental impact of e-waste.
Starting an e-waste business entails four major considerations:
- Licensing and Regulatory Concerns
- Identifying sources of e-waste
- Sorting and Processing e-waste
- Disposal of processed e-waste
Licensing and Regulatory Concerns for Starting an e-Waste Business
There is no comprehensive federal legislation on e-waste. Many states have mandated e-waste recycling, but the nature of regulations varies from state to state. The e-waste entrepreneur needs a good understanding about the relevant state legislation concerning e-waste, for the best strategy for success is to position the business as an option for businesses to comply with statutory obligations.
The first step toward starting an e-waste business is securing appropriate licenses. The e-waste business needs to complete the following regulatory steps:
- Registering the fictitious business name at the Local County Office
- Securing business privilege license from the local county or city office to start business operations
- Certification for e-waste recycling, hazardous waste handling, and waste disposal from the city or state public works department
- Compliance with zonal regulations to establish the processing plant
Identifying Sources of e-Waste
The success of an e-waste business depends on availability of adequate quantities of e-waste to process.
The e-waste entrepreneur could tap e-waste from the following three major sources:
- The Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive places the responsibility of e-waste on the manufacturer, and most brands now either offer buy-back of old products at a fixed price, or offer facility for customers to drop their waste free. Many major retail stores also offer such drop off service for their customers. The e-waste entrepreneur could approach such manufacturers and stores and offer to recycle the collected e-waste.
- Offices and commercial establishments discarding computer accessories and peripherals constitute a major source of e-waste. The e-waste entrepreneur could reach out to recycle such e-waste. A good data-security tool to wipe out files and personal information such as passwords from discarded gadgets such as hard drives is both an essential tool of the trade and a method to persuade business houses to entrust e-waste.
- Individual end-use consumers have the potential to contribute e-waste recycling in a big way. Most customers are however either unaware of the perils of e-waste and throw out old televisions and computers with common household garbage, or do not know what to do with unused electrical and electronic gadgets. The e-waste entrepreneur could reach out end users directly through clubs and raise awareness. Since such sources are unlikely to pay for the recycling effort, the entrepreneur could aim to collect high value e-waste that fetches maximum revenue when recycled.
Sorting and Processing e-Waste
E-waste comes in many forms and needs sorting into various categories for further processing. The e-waste business requires a disassembly line to separate various types of e-waste, remove plastic covers, metal bodies and wood paneling, recover items in good shape, and break down e-waste to its internal components and elements such as metal frames, power supply, circuit boards, plastics, and the like.
E-waste processing takes place through many ways. Some of the considerations are:
- Granulating machines separate metal and plastic fractions, and shredding machines shred them.
- CRT crushers crush the glass off PCUs, monitors and TVs
- Extraction plants retrieve the metals inside components. A good extraction plant extracts up to 98 percent of materials such as copper, lead, nickel, zinc, plastic, iron, silver, and even gold.
A decisive factor in the success of the e-waste recycling business is the disposal of processed e-waste. The e-waste entrepreneur needs to identify various sources to sell the processed e-waste and earn revenue from the business. The business should also have an outlet to safely dispose off by-products that do not have the potential to earn any revenue or be of any further use.
The following are some avenues for e-waste disposal:
- Sale of shredded plastics and metals to smelters
- Sale of retrieved metals such as copper, lead, nickel, and gold to interested buyers
- Sale of salvaged usable components such as USB cords, power cords, speakers and other accessories to bargain stores.
- Sale of repaired and refurbished items to bargain stores and through internet
- Disposal of hazardous wastes such as Freon gas, insulation materials that cause cancer and the like, as per approved regulations
An e-waste recycling business is a green business opportunity that helps conserve world’s resources that would otherwise be spent on the manufacture of recovered substances.
- International Labor Organization. “Start Your Waste Recycling Business” Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/public/english/employment/recon/eiip/download/waste_recycle/trainers_guide.pdf
- Widmer, Rolf et al (July 2005). Global perspectives on e-waste. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. Volume 25, Issue 5, Pages 436-458
- Yarrow, Jay. (May 4, 2009). “There is Gold In Those Trashed Cell Phones.”. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/theres-gold-in-those-trashed-cell-phones-2009-3
Image Credit: Tech Birmingham. https://www.flickr.com/photos/techbirmingham/345897594/