As evolving technologies keep us hooked to new and updated gadgets, and Americans now own (according to the Environmental Protection Agency) an estimated three billion electronic products, one inconvenient question lurks constantly in the shadows:
What are we supposed to do with all of our old gizmos?
While responsible businesses and consumers want to recycle their outdated technology equipment – and often think they are – the reality of the electronics recycling business is an eco-horror show. Rife with misperception and abuse, the e-waste industry is notorious for cashing in on the good intentions of those who want to do right by Mother Earth and then delivering nothing but more problems for old mom.
Electronics recyclers claim that they’re lawfully disposing of electronics after stripping them of their hazardous contaminants. The ugly truth is that after charging exorbitant fees for collection, recyclers often send waste to countries like China and India, where rules are lax and dangerous materials are commonly dumped near farms or sources of drinking water, or burned after the electronics are mined for reusable microchips, copper, and silver. Because circuit boards are fireproof, the workers who burn or smelt down electronics just end up carbonizing the circuit boards and creating more emissions, then filling up landfills with the residuals. This isn’t exactly what most people have in mind when they think “green.”
Enter Materials Conservation Company (MCC), an e-waste company that prefers to think of its mission as recovering materials rather than recycling end of life electronics. Using a proprietary mechanical process, MCC safely reduces electronics to two new raw materials, rendering them into a metal concentrate or powder. The company then sells the metal to refiners, who employ an electrolytic system to make commodity grade metals, such as copper. The end result is that electronic equipment – the toughest material to recycle – is 100% reutilized.
Think of it as a reverse Amazon, but instead of ordering products and putting them into a cart, you put products you already have into a cart. That cart comes in the form of collapsible reusable containers that are sent to businesses by MCC, then picked up from company loading docks within 48 hours after being prepared to ship to regional centers. Recycling partners disassemble the electronics, the scrap is sold to scrap channels, then the circuit boards and wiring are sent back to MCC where the processing begins to extract the metals to be reused in other ways, and recycles the circuit boards into an epoxy resin for use in waterproofing.
Did I mention that the cost of this to businesses and consumers is $0?
“Over the course of several years, we have developed a unique business model that takes our proprietary technology processing combined with eCommerce software, and leverages it with the existing physical infrastructure,” explains founder Michael Burney. “We work with existing companies to handle the logistics and disassembly so that we don’t add trucks to the world, we generate no emissions in processing, and the only consumable is electricity. The whole process is designed to be efficient.”
Most businesses do their recycling based on depreciation schedules; only when a piece of equipment is fully depreciated (aka broken) do they recycle, and they do this by paying waste companies significant sums for retrieval. MCC offers a different model, where all locations of a company have pre-arranged access, the cost to the business is free, and organizations are provided with reporting on their materials. And all of this is done sustainably.
MCC’s main competitor? The trash industry, a business that thinks in terms of tonnage. According to the EPA, 2.37 million tons of electronics were ready for end-of-life management in 2009, but only 25% were collected for recycling. The rest of that tonnage went to landfills or was exported, where most of it will not be reused or recycled.
Earth Day may have long come and gone, but Causecast salutes companies like MCC that are thinking of the earth every day, innovating ways to nurture our planet back to greater health and pave a greener path for the future.