E-waste: impacting your business from sustainability to security

E-waste may not seem like a key business issue, but it actually impacts businesses on multiple levels. From data security to regulatory compliance, corporate reputation and generation of job opportunities, e-waste should not be underestimated.

Cahl van Wyk, ReMarketing Specialist at RentWorks, notes that, nevertheless, e-waste is unfortunately not yet considered an important issue by many businesses in South Africa. This may change, he says, as companies realise the opportunities that are afforded by the e-waste sector, as e-waste increasingly has an impact on a company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen, and as policy continues to tighten.

“Data security is another critical concern to consider,” he says. “For example, when a company disposes of obsolete hardware, what happens to the data on those hard drives? Are your IT people tasked with ensuring data wipes which must be equivalent to a 7-level wipe in order to mitigate the risk of hackers retrieving your data? As an example, if the company is an audit firm, with very sensitive data stored on the machines, it’s imperative that the assets are properly disposed of to protect data resources. The company must ensure that its preferred e-waste disposal company is a registered NEMWA (National Environmental Management Waste Amendment Act) member and preferably also ISO certified.”

They would also need a provider that could either destroy the hard drives on site, or do a level- 7 forensic data wipe.
“Legally, nobody is allowed to dump any form of electronic waste,” Van Wyk says. “Electronic waste that is dumped will ultimately end up in a landfill that will eventually contaminate the environment because of the heavy metals contained in many electronic devices. This could also result in substantial penalties levied against the business, as well as reputational damage” Van Wyk continues.”

Berlin van der Merwe, Logistics Manager at RentWorks, adds that while many companies currently view e-waste as a low priority compliance headache, there are also numerous opportunities available through proper e-waste management. “One company’s e-waste might be someone else’s treasure,” she says. “At RentWorks, for example, we run a programme for clients where some of the refurbished second-hand IT equipment is earmarked and rolled out into schools as part of our CSI programme. We need to understand that an asset has a primary corporate useful life and then there is the secondary useful life, which is not necessarily as sophisticated, but essential in the primary education sector.”

Even when the asset is at the end of its useful life, Van der Merwe notes that there may still be value in the components, such as the sophisticated blends of plastics and precious metals used in motherboards. “Undertaking proper recycling processes ensures that this value can be harvested. This creates jobs and minimises wastage,” she says. “It all plays into the concept of a circular economy.”

Van Wyk notes that when approaching e-waste disposal service providers, companies should check for NEMWA certification. “Better still, find out whether your IT supplier can incorporate e-waste management and compliance into your rental agreements, which is what we do for our clients at RentWorks. That way, you know before the computers even arrive in your office that when it’s eventually time to dispose of them, it will be done as per regulations.”

“Check up on your supplier’s green IT and e-waste management credentials,” advises Van der Merwe. “Make sure the organisation is a member of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) and investigate its disposal channels. Proper e-waste management is not only a legal requirement from your business; it’s an ethical matter too that speaks to sustainability and corporate responsibility.”