In mid-September, the federal government brought criminal charges against two executives at Executive Recycling Inc. in Denver. Their alleged crime? Improper export of toxic electronics materials to developing countries.
The charges were brought after 30 months of investigations by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division. They represent the first federal criminal charges related to e-waste and serve as a wake-up call to any IT solution provider responsible for managing end-of-life equipment on their clients’ behalf.
“The federal government is making a statement about this topic,” said Ken Beyer, CEO of CloudBlue Technologies Inc., a provider of e-waste and asset recovery services. Beyer was not commenting about the criminal charges but about the Feds’ recent decision to more closely monitor the potential e-waste created by IT equipment. “Many states are interested, too,” he said.
The fact is, more than half of U.S. states have laws on their books governing how consumers and individuals can legally dispose of old monitors, computers, networking gear and other outdated technology. That’s separate from the other concern when it comes to asset disposal and recovery: compliance with data destruction regulations.
Another fact that many IT solution providers might not know: If your company is in the business of building custom systems in a state with an e-waste law, it is responsible for ensuring that the customer has a way of disposing of it responsibly, according to Beyer.
Patrick Ciccarelli, CEO of San Francisco-based solution provider Varsity Technologies, said the company is fielding an increasing number of inquiries from small and midsize businesses about e-waste. Varsity advises its clients about their options, including suggesting what to do to extend the life of certain equipment, but it doesn’t charge for those services, Ciccarelli said.
“We’ve never really been into selling this,” he said. “I see this as a value-add to our relationship. First and foremost, this should be about reducing the amount of equipment going to landfill and about reducing consumption up front.”
Other solution providers see the potential for new revenue -- for both themselves and their clients. That’s because many technology assets less than five or six years old have some residual value that can be recovered by the clients, said Joe Swinehart, lifecycle services manager for SHI International Corp., the IT products and services provider based in Piscataway, N.J.
“We have ended up cutting checks to some of our clients after taking our fees,” he said.
Distinguish yourself with e-waste services
For that reason, SHI bills its e-waste offering as an asset recovery service. It handles both secure data destruction as well as a service that helps remarket any infrastructure that still retains value. “It is a nice value-add, one that may help us win an opportunity or set us apart from the competition,” Swinehart said.
SHI has teamed up with CloudBlue to offer these services, and the e-waste management company is actively seeking similar relationships, Beyer said. Resellers, systems integrators and other IT service providers can resell the company’s offerings much the way they would sell any other packaged service.
Global systems integrator Dimension Data, which has its U.S. hzseadquarters in New York City, recently added a suite of what it calls “sustainability” services, including an e-waste management offering.
Colin Curtis, director of sustainability for Dimension Data, said it makes the most sense to have asset recovery conversations when clients are evaluating new infrastructure investments. The very local nature of e-waste disposal laws around the world make it tough to stay current with all the rules, and multinational businesses in financial services and health care have jumped on the bandwagon the quickest.
“The more you look into this, the more complicated it gets,” Curtis said. “That is really where we try to help.”
About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York area with more than 20 years experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.