It’s “Earth Week,” so it’s time to talk about how you can help protect the environment in your small business. In particular, what are you going to do with all that tech trash you have?
If you own a small business, you probably create a whole bunch of tech waste. Look around. I bet you have a box full (or a closet full) of old computers, monitors, keyboards, printers, and phones. That’s not even mentioning all those cables and wires that you no longer even know what they go to.
While you might religiously recycle your paper and bottles at home, what do you do with all your tech waste at the office? After all, you can only give your kids or your brother-in-law so much stuff.
Throw it away? Nope. Not only is that terrible for the environment—electronic equipment contains significant amounts of components and chemicals that are toxic and don’t break down in landfill—but in many states, throwing electronics in the trash is illegal.
One small thing you can do for the environment this Earth Week is to figure out a better way to deal with your small business tech trash.
Here’s the first thing: find ways to USE IT LONGER.
- Refresh it. The environment aside, as a small business owner, you certainly can’t afford to buy new equipment every couple of years. Let’s face it, you often don’t need the latest and greatest to get your jobs done. (Though I don’t believe in small businesses using very old, unproductive, outdated equipment either…) You can often “update” your equipment by doing a complete reinstall on a computer or buying new or additional components for other equipment. My smartphone is 3 years old, and I just got a new battery so I can hold off replacing mine for another year or two.
- Repair it. Yes, I know it may be difficult, especially since it may be hard to find repair services. That’s because equipment manufacturers make it hard (if not impossible) to get parts and understand repair procedures. But that may be changing. Twenty states have introduced “right to repair laws.” These laws would give consumers the right to take their devices to third parties for repair rather than having to return them to the manufacturer. That means it will be easier (and hopefully less expensive) to repair troubled equipment.
Of course, at some point you’ll no longer want your old devices, so here are some responsible (and legal) ways to get rid of your equipment:
- Sell it. Perhaps you can find a buyer for some of your old but working equipment. You won’t get much for it, but you can put it on your Facebook page or try advertising for free on sites like NextDoor or Craigslist. To figure out the value of your electronic devices, check out Gadget Value.
- Donate it. At some point, you may upgrade your devices and still have working ones to get rid of. Look around for schools, nonprofit organizations, religious groups that could benefit. If you do donate, get a receipt.
- Send it back. Many device manufacturers offer easy ways to donate or recycle their devices. You can find a list on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
- Recycle it. Certified electronics recyclers must meet specific standards for handling and recycling electronics, ensuring that toxic materials don’t end up in landfills or in the environment. Look for a certified electronics recycler in your state, using a map maintained by the EPA at the following site: http://www.ecyclingcentral.com/
Whatever you do, before you get rid of your equipment: DELETE YOUR INFORMATION. You don’t want your sensitive small business information to fall into someone else’s hands. So…
- Backup and/or transfer whatever data you’ll need on your devices. Many cloud services, such as iCloud or Dropbox, are good places to store all your files.
- On a smartphone, reset the phone to factory settings.
- For computers, search online how to “wipe clean” your hard drive and memory. If you need help, make an appointment with a service such as Geek Squad or visit the Genius Bar at an Apple Store for your Apple devices.
Marie Kondo would be delighted that you’re finally taking out your tech trash. Let’s all “spark joy” for the Earth.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2019
This article originally ran in USA Today on April 24, 2019