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Wireless Recycling Protect Data, Environment, & Bottom Line

11 Oct, 2011 By: Chris Irion imageSource

Wireless technologies such as smartphones and tablets have become essential tools for leading enterprises. They connect the workforce to our world through email, the Web and social media. They snap photos and shoot video. They run powerful business applications that make us more productive and efficient. In many ways, we can’t work without them.

But what happens to these invaluable tools when it’s time for new technology? Often, a startling transformation occurs: in just one day, a device which was once so critical is simply cast aside as “obsolete” and “worthless.” This happens to thousands of phones everyday.

Each year, more than a billion wireless phones are retired worldwide. Yet surprisingly, only 10% of these phones are recycled. What happens to the rest? Many are crammed into desk drawers, stored in closets or simply thrown away. In the U.S., more than 500 million cell phones are gathering dust right now. If 100 million of these end-of-life cell phones were recycled, we could save enough energy to power more than 18,500 US households with electricity for one year.

Wireless phones contain toxic materials such as lead, mercury, arsenic and flame-retardants. If they are not properly disposed, they can pollute groundwater, damage the environment and endanger our communities. In fact, one mobile phone in a landfill can contaminate up to 40,000 gallons of water.

However, there is another solution. 50% mobile devices still retain resale value, even after 18 months of use, and can be reused in secondary markets where the technologies are valued and needed. Every organization should have a plan to recoup this revenue to help offset the cost of supplying their workforce with the latest technologies.

Businesses & organizations also need a policy in place to make sure their sensitive data does not end up in the wrong hands. Retired business phones retain a tremendous amount of confidential information. They are loaded with contact records, business documents and important correspondence. With the growing use of Blackberry’s, iPhones, iPads, Droids & other smartphones in the enterprise environment, the amount of corporate and personal data stored on each device is staggering.
Today’s organizations are being challenged to address the growing concern over wireless recycling. To do this effectively, they need a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity of these issues and a serious, ongoing program to put that policy into action.

Tips to maintain a sustainable, secure & profitable mobile phone reuse and recycling program:

1.  Know EVERYTHING about your buyback and recycling partner—know THEIR recycling partners.

Our company was calling on an extremely large U.S. financial institution whose representative said that they already had a buyback and recycling solution in place through an “approved vendor,” and that they were receiving a few more dollars per device than we were offering. Having never heard of the vendor, we decided to research the company.

After further investigation, we were able to view a satellite image and street view of the company’s location. We discovered that the vendor was actually a residential address using an unsecure, open garage to collect and refurbish mobile devices to sell on eBay. Needless to say, the institution immediately ceased all business activities with the vendor.

Before choosing any mobile buyback or asset recovery partner, be sure to investigate every aspect of their business process. If they are shipping phones, batteries, accessories, and parts to downstream recycling partners—make certain that these partners are also conducting their business practices in an environmentally responsible manner. Be very wary of any recycling vendor that is vague about their recycling process and downstream partners. You should expect complete transparency of all business practices.

Key questions to ask:

Are you and/or your recycling partners e-Stewards, ISO 14001, or R2 certified? Where are you sending non-reusable phones? What are you doing with the discarded batteries and accessories? Do you have any recent audits of your downstream partners that I can review? Do you shred end-of-life devices on site? Can you provide a detailed reuse and recycling process outline and chart?

2. Read the FINE PRINT in regards to data wiping and security—do they really offer the protection claimed?

There are several mobile buyback and recycling web sites, especially those of consumer-driven companies, claiming “complete data deletion and protection.” However, if you take the time to read the fine print in their terms and conditions, most will state that they take no responsibility for deleting the private data. Be sure to take into consideration model specific wiping processes, quality assurance practices, facility security, hiring policies, and liability insurance, among others, when evaluating a wireless recycling partner’s data security services.

Key questions to ask:

What is your process for removing data from specific device model(s)? What quality assurance testing is done to verify complete data removal—is it simply a spot check or a more comprehensive process? What security measures do you have in place at your facility to make certain our devices are protected (security guard/cameras, exit search & screening, lock-down facilities, etc.)? What liability insurance do you have to protect your clients? What do you do with found SIM cards? Do you perform background screenings of your employees?

3. Do not completely trust your employees or third-party software with data deletion.

It is a great advantage if your organization has the resources to invest in remote data wiping solutions. While these software applications tend to be expensive, they offer exceptional added protection—especially in the event of lost or stolen mobile devices. However, even after resetting a device to factory settings, there are still applications and hidden menus that may still contain data, including owner contact information, passwords and pin numbers.

Human error happens. A recent audit from our operations department found that 27% of devices from clients who had pre-wiped their mobile phones prior to sending them to us still contained sensitive information. Be certain your mobile
buyback company has rigorous processes in place to permanently remove the data on
every device as well as secondary quality assurance testing.

4. Be skeptical of mobile asset recovery companies offering extremely high buyback pricing.

When receiving a buyback quote from a wireless asset recovery provider, be sure to research what deductions are taken for cosmetic flaws on the devices. Since many consumer-driven buyback companies resell on eBay, they need to take significant price reductions due to scratches, cracks in the housing, scuffmarks, water-damage indicators, and other flaws that may have nothing to do with the functionality of the phone. Ideally, try to find a company that will grade only on the operability of the phone. We have heard numerous testimonies from disgruntled businesses that felt they were victim of “bait and switch” pricing.

5.  Be sure your active lines are canceled prior to reselling or recycling your devices.

Of the thousands of wireless devices that we test each year, more than 14% still have active phone lines. Not only is this a serious security risk due to continued data transmissions made to the phone, it often results substantial financial losses due to unnecessary carrier service charges. In the case of one of our clients, it resulted in a loss of tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Managing hundreds and sometimes thousands of employee-liable wireless devices is a difficult task. Mobile phones and active service plans can easily fall through the cracks, even with a dedicated telecom manager. Be sure your chosen wireless recycling company also includes active phone line testing as part of their services.

6.  A “destroy only” policy is bad for the environment and your bottom line.

You can greatly reduce the environmental impact of cell phones if you recycle them so they’ll have a chance to be used by someone else. Studies have shown that extending the service life of the phone from one to four years decreases the environmental impacts by approximately 40%. In fact, extending the use of a mobile phone from 18 month to four years saves 20% more energy than destroying and recycling alone.

Most organizations retire their wireless phones within 18 months. At that stage, these devices can retain a significant percentage of their retail value. In the case of newer iPhones, often businesses can recoup more than the original purchase price gained through their service plans.

Data security is a serious issue, but a destroy-only policy only harms the environment and the opportunity to reclaim needed revenues to offset the cost of upgrading to newer devices. It also denies entrepreneurs in developing countries the opportunity to utilize the technologies desperately needed to run their businesses. A destroy-only policy for mobile devices is simply bad business.

7.  Make certain your logistics are in place.

Mobile phone recycling should be an important part of every sustainability plan. Whether your business is in one central location or multiple locations throughout the world, be certain that you have dedicated employees who understand the importance of mobile recycling as part of your organization’s green initiatives. Work with a recycling partner that can offer personal support to assist your team in maintaining a successful program and can provide full inventory reports for each location.

Key logistics to consider:

The location(s) of collection. The key people responsible for collection and dissemination of internal communications. Secure storage location(s) for the collected devices. The asset recovery and recycling timeframe is monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or annually. Inventory reporting and control of documents.

8.  Measure your environmental impact.

Work with a recycling company that will help your organization measure its positive impact on the environment through its recycling efforts. Some of the measurements you should request include the gallons of water saved from harmful toxins, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy savings, and amounts of lead kept from landfills. By measuring and reporting your positive impact on your community, as well as your cost-savings from your wireless asset recovery program, you’ll have the information that you need to report and celebrate the successes of your green initiatives to your stakeholders. 

Chris Irion is the founder and CEO of e-Cycle LLC. Founded in 2005, e-Cycle was recently ranked the #5 fastest-growing, privately held environmental services company in the United States. Irion recently won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the South Central Ohio and Kentucky Region. For more information, contact GoGreen@e-Cycle.com or call 1.877.215.5255.


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