For large electronics companies, an overabundance of outdated products
is cause for concern. For some of these companies, electronic recycling is
-- and will continue to be -- an essential part of company protocol.
The website of electronics recycling firm Hobi International explains that
the problem is not just shrinking landfills -- it's also the heavy metals
in electronics, such as lead and mercury, which present a hazardous threat
to the environment.
"We are a society of out with the old, in with the new, which creates a
huge potential for recycling," states Robert Fox, president of California-based
Not only can electronic recycling help dispose of these materials -- with
very little going to a landfill -- but often, companies can receive a percentage
of revenue obtained from the reselling of their useful components on the market.
In fact, most electronics recyclers will sell up to 30 percent of these "trashed"
items for use in the construction of new products.
Rosy Future for Recycling
Another factor that bodes well for this segment of the recycling industry
is that many electronics companies are producing more and more high-tech solutions
for their customers.
"When taking into account the growth of related industries, particularly
in the computer industry, the expansion of the sheer number of units being
sold, as well as the related value of the inner components of the computer,
one can assure an excellent return on investment," says J.A. Stuart, president
of RBC Ltd., a recycling firm.
Craig Boswell, the Texas manager for Hobi International, predicts a positive
future for companies like his own. "Two factors contribute to growth," he
"The first is rapid obsolescence of information technology products. The
second is an increasing awareness of electronic recycling as the proper means
of disposing outdated equipment."
Not everyone is as positive about the future of the industry. Kelly Taylor
of Hy-Tech Sal, a small recycling company, has run into numerous cases of
bureaucratic red tape.
"The most abundant items that I run across are made of plastics, such as
monitors and terminals, that are largely unrecyclable -- 60 to 70 percent
of their weight is from plastics," Taylor says, adding that many companies
will not take the plastic back to recycle into new products.
Room for More
"There are hundreds of companies advertising themselves as recycling companies,"
says Boswell. "Yet they are processing under a million pounds of material
a year. There are only a few dozen companies processing over a million pounds
a year, yet these are the only full-service companies."
Taylor would like to see more people join the industry, but on the client
side. "I break down equipment and separate materials. It's been a tough road
dealing with plastic manufacturers who won't take their plastics back. I'd
really like to see people start businesses that design new products using
Value in the Garbage
How do these companies make money? The breakdown of precious metals, such
as platinum, palladium, gold and silver, offers one revenue stream. Another
way that many companies pull a profit is by reselling complete systems and
other useful items, such as integrated circuits recovered from printed circuit
Offering a variety of services to clients is what makes a company profitable,
adds Fox. "Fox Electronics is not just a recycling company. We provide a broad
range of services for manufacturers worldwide, including providing logistics
for trade-in, take-back and certified destruction programs. We provide database
management for manufacturers in relation to these programs."
Integrity Comes First
"My company provides services to the high-tech industry, where they trust
us with proprietary information, products and designs. This material can never
make it back into the mainstream of society or irreparable harm could be caused
to the provider of this information," explains Fox.
Boswell adds, "There are many opportunities to take advantage of a client's
trust, but there are few that will survive in the long term doing this."
To operate a successful business, Fox insists that you don't need a lot
of money, just a good track record. He says that clients are seeking recyclers
that they can trust to destroy proprietary design information (like company
secrets). "I was actually profitable as a one-person operation out of my garage
back in 1984," he says.
While Fox may have started his business with little more than $800, he
admits that his company now owns more than $2 million worth of capital equipment
-- and just spent another $400,000 on upgrades and new services.
"Even if you have that kind of start-up capital and set up the perfect
model of a recycling facility, how do you get accounts to knock on your door?"
Fox asks. "We get referral accounts now because of our reputation and length
of time in the industry."
A Business With Impact
Besides being responsible for the destruction of proprietary information,
the electronics recycler has a moral obligation to find creative alternatives
to landfills when it comes to discarding non-saleable items.
In the past 20 years, landfills have received scrap electronics equipment
in excess of hundreds of millions of tons, according to DMC Electronics' website.
"Most of the upper-tier companies can quote recycling rates in excess of
93 percent," states Boswell.
Fox's company also aims for limited landfill usage. "We process approximately
900 tons of material a month and less than three percent of that goes to landfill.
This usually consists of packaging material that is not recyclable."
However, to become an upper-tier company, Stuart advises prospective owners
to grow into a business. "Quality of work, fairness in pricing for returned
products, and excellent communication skills will allow a company to start
small and grow to a level that meets their long-term goals."
For those who take the time to truly learn the business, there is definitely
treasure in the trash -- not only in profits, but also in the knowledge that
recycling helps turn back the clock on our aging environment.
Learn about responsible e-waste disposal
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