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IT Asset Disposition Explored

In this post, I’m going to explore the concept of IT Asset Disposition (ITAD). ITAD is a relatively new concept that has emerged over the past decade as a result of the pervasive use of electronic devices in the workplace. It is the final stage in the IT asset lifecycle in which an organization determines and executes the most appropriate method for phasing out IT equipment.

Some people define ITAD as IT asset disposal, but most people in the industry agree that disposition is the more appropriate term. The word “disposal” implies that resources are wasted, never to be used again. Disposition, on the other hand, equates to a managed retirement process.

In fact, most organizations seeking ITAD services and most ITAD service providers see IT asset disposition as the opposite of disposal – they see it as an opportunity to recover value and resources from electronics that are no longer serving their purpose. More specifically, value can be recovered in the ITAD process through the reuse, resale, or recycling of IT equipment.

All organizations have different requirements when it comes to IT asset disposition. However, ITAD generally incorporates some aspects of basic IT asset management. In fact, IT asset management and IT asset disposition are often used interchangeably. For example, serial numbers and/or asset numbers of the electronics need to be recorded before they are recycled or remarketed. This way, organizations know exactly which assets are still under their control and which assets have been released to the ITAD vendor. This information is also required by organizations requesting certificates of destruction so that each individual asset can be identified and confirmed as destroyed.

One of the most important parts of the ITAD process is determining whether or not an asset can or should be remarketed/reused. Often times, organizations will mandate that specific assets or asset types (hard drives, prototypes, branded equipment, etc.) need be destroyed and recycled. Other times, the decision to recycle or resell IT assets is is left to the ITAD vendor. Equipment that is old or beyond repair usually enters the electronics recycling process flow, and newer equipment or electronics that still possess resale value can be remarketed through various secondary channels.

Although every organization has unique requirements and every ITAD vendor has different policies and procedures, it is almost ALWAYS require that hard drives or data-containing devices are shredded for recycling or erased if they are to be remarketed. Similarly, asset tag removal is usually required as well. Data security and brand protection are of the utmost importance when a company is phasing out IT equipment and most organizations are not willing to risk their reputation or sensitive data in order to maximize the value of their retired IT assets.

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Electronics Recycling Defined

In this post, I’m going to tackle the daunting task of defining electronics recycling. This may seem straightforward, but if you’re familiar with the industry, you know that everyone has a different (and often self-serving) interpretation of what it means. For consumers and organizations that want to recycle their electronics, understanding the truth and the common misconceptions is important.

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On one end of the spectrum, the loose definition of electronics recycling includes any form of value recovery, from part harvest and disposal to resale and reuse. As volumes of electronic waste skyrocketed over the past decade, thousands of companies popped up to take part in recovering value from this particularly attractive waste stream. All of these companies claimed to “recycle” electronics, but many of them only performed a small part of the recycling process or shipped the waste overseas with little or no accountability whatsoever.

Most of these pseudo-recyclers capitalize on recovering value from the low hanging fruit – i.e. puling out memory, printed circuit boards, and processors from computers and dumping the rest; reselling high-end IT equipment; filling cargo containers with scrap electronics and selling to the highest bidder overseas. In most cases, these practices are more favorable than simply dumping e-waste into landfills, but they are not sustainable solutions for this swelling waste stream when you consider the vast amount of natural resources required to manufacture these products in the first place.

True electronics recycling, or end-of-life electronics recycling, is the complete physical recovery of commodities from electronic devices that have reached the end of their useful lives. In other words, when an electronic device can no longer be used practically, rather than throwing it in the trash or dumping it in a landfill, the recycling process breaks that device down into the various commodities that it consists of to be manufactured into new products. Most electronic devices are comprised primarily of steel, aluminum, plastic, copper, glass, and printed circuit boards (PCBs) which contain a variety of precious metals.

What many people don’t realize is that effective, efficient, and sustainable electronics recycling requires large volumes of feedstock (e-waste) and a great deal of sophistication in the form of capital equipment, advanced technology, and operational expertise. It’s truly a remarkable process, and the truth is there are only a handful of companies in the U.S. that perform end-of-life electronics recycling.

On the other hand, there’s a myriad of companies out there that “recycle” electronics by reselling them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dismissing the importance of reusing electronics – after all, it’s the purest form of recycling. But reuse is a different subject altogether. Resellers specialize in extending the lifecycle of electronics by testing, repairing, and reselling them in secondary markets (most of them also provide IT asset management services for the organizations they work with). But eventually, all electronics become obsolete, and the end-of-life recycling process is the critical final step that ultimately ensures that our Earth’s finite resources do not got to waste.

So what you should take away from this semi-lengthy disambiguation?

  1. First, you should understand that “electronics recycling” is a blanket term used by a multitude of service providers thatperform a number of varying services, including repair/resale, parts harvesting, dumping, brokering, and exporting.
  2. Second, you should understand that, due to the barriers to entry and the rampant export of e-waste to developing nations, there are only a handful of companies in the US that actually perform end-of-life electronics recycling.
  3. If you or your organization work with a recycler or reseller that doesn’t physically perform end-of-life electronics recycling in-house, make sure that they’re subcontracting that process to a domestic recycler that does.
  4. Lastly, do your research and make sure that your electronics recycler is helping the environment, not making a profit by harming it. There are some great certification standards that ensure you’re working with a legitimate responsible recycler (R2 and e-Stewards)

Welcome to the Electronics Recycling Blog

Hello all,

This is an introduction to my Electronics Recycling blog where I will be discussing developments in the electronics recycling or e-waste recycling industry. As many of you know, the electronics recycling industry is a dynamic landscape effected by consumer electronics trends, electronics manufacturers (OEMS), electronics recyclers, e-waste collectors, scrap metal recyclers, environmental agencies, watchdogs, individual consumers, and more.

The purpose of this blog is to keep the stakeholders mentioned above informed and up to date on the latest information, news, legislation. I want to share ideas and spur conversations about the stuff that matters most.

Stay tuned for more info and feel free to reach out to me if you want to write a guest blog post or inquire about further details.