At Absolute Green Electronics Recycling (Lake Forest, CA), old computers are dismantled, the parts sorted into cardboard bins, stretched in rows across a giant warehouse, containing: graphic cards, cooling fans, VHS camcorders, cables and network switches. Printers, picture tubes and flat-screen monitors form mountains and clusters along a wall.
This is electronic waste, also known as “e-waste”; it’s a revenue stream for Absolute Green’s owner and President Victor Kianipay (Last January, 25,000 pounds of discarded items were moved).
E-waste has become an escalating problem of global proportions; it now totals nearly 50 million tons a year worldwide, according to the Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative (within five years, the annual figure may reach 65 million tons). There’s a large health concern when deposing of e-waste; when the waste is melted down to recover gold, silver and copper, hazardous substances are released, like lead and mercury (and there’s the widespread practice by some waste dealers of exporting e-waste to developing countries; while it’s creating profitable scrap economies in China and Africa, the downside is that large amounts of people are being exposed to toxins and carcinogens).
Congress and state governments are trying to ensure that e-waste gets properly recycled here; the federal Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (introduced in July 2013, with bipartisan support) would prohibit the export of toxic-containing electronic junk to nations that cannot process them safely. Also, the Interagency Task Force on Electronics Stewardship was established in 2010 to encourage development of “greener” electronic devices and to boost domestic recycling.
“We make things go away”, said Arleen Chafitz, owner and CEO of e-End Secure Data Sanitization and Electronics Recycling (husband Steve is the company’s president).
That is accomplished by destroying hard drives, phones, computers, monitors and other sensitive equipment that governments and corporations don’t want in the wrong hands (clients include the Department of Defense, D.C. National Guard, the Secret Service, L-3 Communications and other corporations, the French Embassy in Washington, the Frederick County government and other federal agencies Clients also include health care insurers and providers-who worry about losing patient information).
e-End’s annual intake is over $1 million; the eight-year-old company employs 16 people, all of whom have undergone thorough background checks (that go back at least seven years!).
E-End adheres to the government’s highest demilitarization standards and NSA guidelines, Steve Chafitz said. “They’ve done work for us several times, and we’ll definitely use them again”, said Charles Garvin of the Defense Acquisition University, a Pentagon training agency.
And e-End isn’t the only one; Robert Johnson, CEO of the National Association for Information Destruction, said that thousands of firms nationwide destroy devices that retain data. “It is definitely a growing sector” Johnson added, as evidence of high-profile information leaks from the National Security Agency and other organizations (and the steady stream of new laws and regulations to safeguard personal info) ensure that the number of companies is expected to rise.
Sources: “Obsolete electronics are starting to pile up”-The Orange County Register-The (Sunday) Vindicator, January 12, 2014 and “Where digital secrets go to die”-The Baltimore Sun-The (Sunday) Vindicator, February 9, 2014