We live with constant technological change. The average desktop computer has a lifespan of two to three years and most of us upgrade our mobile phone every 24 months when the contract runs out.
But, what happens to all of those outdated gadgets and screens, keypads and accessories? How should a business dispose of e-waste?
Safe, sustainable disposal
Most of us are pretty diligent about recycling drink cans and paper. Yet the materials used in e-waste are often far more valuable or hazardous and shouldn't just be consigned to landfill.
Copper, gold, platinum and other precious metals are commonly found in electronic devices (in very small quantities) and too much of it ends up in landfill where it cannot be retrieved. Meanwhile, toxic materials such as mercury and lead can leach into the soil, damaging the environment.
If you think a few smartphones and the odd printer are harmless enough, then consider that Australians dispose of 140,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.1 You'll see that just the odd piece of tech here and there for each of us, very quickly adds up to a major problem.
Safe disposal and recycling is paramount. Don't just toss the old laptop in the wheelie bin. Most councils offer e-waste disposal services and many run free e-waste drop-off days every few weeks. Check your local council website for details and dates.
If you can't wait, there are many paid e-waste services where you can book a time for your old printers, monitors and keyboards to be collected and disposed of safely. Plus, anything that can be extracted or re-used will be. Search for 'e-waste' in your local area to find a service that is near to you.
Trash or treasure?
What may be e-waste to you may be a great help to someone else. Your old laptop, for instance, may be too slow or outdated for business but it could be perfect for the kids to learn on. Or pass your e-waste (providing it's still fully functional) on to a charity shop to help someone else get a foothold on the technology ladder.
Unless your electronic devices and accessories are truly broken, consider whether there may be an alternate use. Set up an old PC as a dedicated media server, perhaps. Use older workstations for training purposes or other less critical tasks. Or keep one or two old smartphones in the drawer for the inevitable day when someone in the office drops or loses theirs.
Shredding your data
You wouldn't throw a bank statement in the recycling bin without shredding it first. And yet, it's still extremely common for individuals and businesses to throw out, give away or sell computers, smartphones and other devices stuffed with sensitive and personal information.
Anything with a hard drive should have all data securely wiped before disposal - and that doesn't mean simply deleting the documents folder and hitting 'empty trash'. It may still be possible for others to retrieve sensitive or personal data from a hard drive, even after fully reformatting the drive to factory settings.
Plus, technology is so advanced these days that most software and computer settings record and store thousands of potentially sensitive bits of information about us, and the actions we perform. This allows greater convenience when working - such as autocompleting online forms, remembering passwords and automatically connecting to our preferred networks. But, would you know how to locate and erase that data should you want to dispose of a laptop?
The last thing you want is someone buying an old laptop in Cash Converters and discovering it still connects to your secure Wi-Fi network or has access to your private cloud services.
There are a few free data destruction programs out there, such as CCleaner or Eraser, designed to completely remove any and all vestiges of data from a hard drive by overwriting it several times, making recovery impossible.
Of course, if you intend to dispose of e-waste by destroying or recycling it, you could simply remove the hard drive and smash it with a hammer until the disk components are unsalvageable.
An e-waste policy
Just as a business should have policies and guidelines on acquiring and maintaining technology, you need to also plan how you will dispose of e-waste, securely and responsibly.
1 'Sydneysiders recycle 14 tonnes of e-waste', City of Sydney Media Centre, June 6, 2011
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Jonathan has worked within, and written about, the technology industry for many years. Before going freelance as a writer in 2012, Jonathan had worked for Netregistry (web hosting) and Ninefold (cloud computing). Jonathan has won awards for his articles on online business for Nett Magazine and his over-opinionated blog Atomik Soapbox. He continues to write for Chief Content Officer magazine.