SMBs with no e-waste plan are throwing money out the window, study says

Most SMBs in Ontario are dumping their electronic castoffs instead of recycling them – and wasting valuable opportunities to save time and money for their businesses in doing so, a new survey says.
A survey of 400 Ontario businesses of various sizes shows two-thirdsdon’t have any plan in place to deal with e-waste such as computers,monitors, cell phones, landline telephones and printers. But SMBs arefar less green than larger companies: only 41 per cent of companieswith 50 to 200 staff have an e-waste management plan versus 60 per centof larger companies. And six per cent of SMBs with 50 to 200 employeesdump their used electronics instead of reusing or recycling them,compared with only four per cent of large firms.

The smallerthe company, the more likely its e-waste is to end up in a landfill.Nine per cent of firms with one to nine employees – that’s more thandouble the rate for larger companies – dump e-waste rather thandisposing of it in a green way.

“That’s a significant percentage(of SMBs not recycling). But they may not have the resources availableto them,” says Carol Hochu, executive director of the OntarioElectronic Stewardship (OES), the not-for-profit organization that didthe study.

Some critics like the Recycling Council of Ontario have blamed the OESitself for not raising enough awareness about e-waste diversionprograms in the province, especially among businesses. Hochu, however,says most companies, and SMBs in particular, are so focused on theprocess of acquiring new IT that they don’t consider what to do with itonce it’s outdated.

“People are thinking more about the front end (IT)purchase or lease and not about the back end management when it comesto end of life. But it doesn’t have to be really onerous or taxing tostart (an e-waste plan),” Hochu says.

With an average life cycleof just 18 months for cell phones and two to three years for corporatePCs, the volume of e-waste is rising faster than ever before, the OESstudy says, much of it containing toxic components like lead, mercuryand cadmium. Though many SMBs would rather dump or store used IT thaninvest time and money into recycling it, improper disposal could carryhuge costs to their reputation and customer base, says Jim Harris,author and former leader of the Green Party of Canada.

He pointsto a U.S. study that found a third of disposed corporate PCs and 43 percent of discarded smartphones contain sensitive data. And a 2010Symantec Corp. report estimated that a corporate data breach involvingmultiple files costs a company $7.2 million per incident, Harris says.

“Theaverage cost per (breached) record is $214. Those (larger estimates)take into account the legal costs an organization has to engage in whenthere’s been a breach, compensation to victims, costs to hire a P.R.firm for reputational damage to their corporate brand, market shareloss, the increased marketing cost to bring those customers back, (and)the insurance costs (for) clients who then suffer fraud because theirdata was exposed,” Harris says.

Every business in Ontario islegally responsible for ensuring its e-waste is properly handled anddisposed of under the Privacy Act and the Personal InformationProtection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Harris adds. To findan OES approved e-waste processor who can safely wipe data from yourdevices and recycle them, contact OES by email at: [email protected].
The OES study also suggests going green can help drive customers to businesses. A 2010 Image Power Green Brands survey of 9,000 consumers in eight nations found that over 60 per cent of consumers would prefer to purchase from environmentally responsible companies.
Recyclingunused hardware can also save companies money and physical space. For abusiness paying $35 per square foot of urban office space, it costs$7,000 per month or $84,000 a year to store e-waste on site in just 200square feet of space, the OES study estimates. For other savings,Harris suggests companies can sometimes get tax write offs for donatingused IT to charities.

Green disposal of technology is alsogood for the province’s economy, with seven jobs created for every1,000 tonnes of waste recycled in Ontario, the OES study says.

Here are some OES tips for SMBs as worried about their bottom line asthey are about the environment:

•    designate at least one individual atyour company to oversee your e-waste program, probably an IT manager
•    make end-of-life disposal a part ofyour existing IT plan, just like purchasing, leasing and maintenance
•   “If you lease (IT equipment) you want to make sure thecompanyyou lease with has a disposal plan in place of its own,” Hochu says.
•    prepare your company’s e-waste forrecycling or disposal by wiping sensitive data from it
•   have an e-waste collection event at your business so staffcanbring in their own used devices for recycling or green disposal (theOES can help you organize it )
•   check the OES Web site at alist of retailers like Sony Corp., Staples Inc. or Best Buy Canada Ltd.where consumers can trade in old electronics for partial discounts onnew models, or drop off used devices for green disposal

Christine WongChristineWong is a Staff Writer at Follow her on Twitter,and join in the conversation on the IT BusinessFacebook Page.

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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at and is now a freelance contributor.

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