Electronics recycling industry is feeling the impact of COVID-19
Employees working at ERI facility
ERI

Electronics recycling industry is feeling the impact of COVID-19

Several companies are adjusting their operations and intake in response to the pandemic.

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May 12, 2020

While many businesses around the country are closed because of COVID-19, recycling was deemed essential in many cities, allowing electronics recycling and information technology asset disposition (ITAD) facilities to remain open. For some, the decreased volume is allowing for other projects to move forward. For others, it’s helping them plan for the future, including for the potential surge in volume in the coming months.

Several companies involved with different elements of electronics recycling share their thoughts on the current state of e-scrap and how they imagine things will change as life returns to normal.

ERI prepares for influx of e-scrap as pandemic slows

Fresno, California-based electronics recycling company ERI says electronics recycling and data destruction have been essential since the onset of COVID-19, especially with the increase in cybercrime.

ERI refers to itself as the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the country. With eight locations, the company says it can move more than half a million tons of electronic scrap each year.

With more people online now as they telecommute or attempt to connect with loved ones they are not sheltering with, cybercrime has seen a spike, pushing ERI to use recycling kits for its clients. These kits allow businesses and consumers to recycle their materials safely, by shipping them directly to the company, and ensure the data on them are destroyed.

“At the end of the day, we are able to navigate through the current obstacles the industry is facing,” co-founder and executive chairman John Shegerian says “ERI is the first organization in the world to be NAID, e-Stewards, and R2 certified at all eight of its facilities, setting the highest possible standard and leading the industry for both data destruction and responsible electronics recycling,”

ERI also is using its partnership with LS-Nikko Copper to offer services to other recycling companies in need of metal recycling and smelting.

While Shegerian says business has been decreased by COVID-19, it’s still important to work hard with the resources available to ensure the company is prepared for the increase in volume once people and companies go back to work. Because regardless of the company size, being able to safely destroy data and recycle the electronics they no longer need are still essential. 

Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations altering operations, allowing more remote work

For Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations, Onalaska, Wisconsin, changes have been in place since early March to adapt to COVID-19. While many people, within the company and around the country are working from home, there is still the unknown about how those changes will affect the company as life returns to normal.

Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations is an electronics and materials management company that specializes in ITAD, refurbishment, resale, materials recovery and data security. With two locations, in Wisconsin and Tennessee, it offers custom packages to companies to protect data and decrease e-waste.

Casey Dingfelder is the company’s vice president of ITAD solutions, and while he says ITAD volume has been down about 50 percent, coupled with quarantining all materials for three days for safety, productivity has been up.

“I personally feel like my team is more efficient working from home,” Dingfelder says. “I think we’re preparing, in ITAD, to do what we can do to service a remote work force better than we already have.” Most of the employees at home are handling sales and other work, like meetings, that can be done away from the facility.

While working from home has been beneficial for some areas of the company, Vice President and Chief of Staff for Recycling and Recovery Solutions Jason Schott says the in-house operations that can’t stop have been scaled back to accommodate the decrease in volume, as well as social distancing.

“As this has unfolded, we’ve really defined processes for how we support this situation,” Schott says, “[and] safety measures we could put in place for processing, to minimize risk to our customers.”

While Schott says the side of the business in the U.S. is still slower, the companies they partner with internationally are seeing some return to normal as other countries start to move past COVID-19.

Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations says no matter how quickly people get back to work and volume increases at its facilities, the company is prepared to handle it safely and likely with many of their employees still working from home. 

Sunnking helps consumers sell their electronics

With so many people working from home and even doing their schooling from home, many more electronics have been bought and used. However, once life levels out a bit, those electronics may not be needed anymore.

That’s where Rochester, New York-based electronics recycler Sunnking Inc. is stepping in. Creating a buy-back website where consumers can sell their electronics to be reused and recycled. CoronaBuyBack.com lets sellers share the details about their devices as well as pictures and ship them in for free. Once local experts review the items and their quality, sellers will be paid through Venmo, check or PayPal.

Sunnking was founded in 2000 and operates several facilities around New York, including a new facility to serve central New York and the capital region. It specializes in collecting, recycling and reselling electronics from companies, residents and municipalities. 

For Sunnking, this is just a small portion of its efforts to keep business moving during the pandemic. The company had to furlough some employees and scale back operations because of decreased volume. However, Vice President Adam Shine says resale business has held strong as more people needed computers for home offices, so the buyback website was a natural fit for when those items are no longer needed.

Sagent helps customers find the value left in their electronics

As a provider of network equipment, repair and maintenance services, Coppell, Texas-based Sagent focuses on helping companies get the most out of their equipment, seeing recycling as the final option.

Sagent operates in more than 80 countries and serves thousands of customers, including wireless operators, tier-1 telecommunications, cable multiple system operators, Fortune 500s and original equipment manufacturers. The company uses advanced business analytics and network support services to help customers make better, more informed decisions about repairing, reusing, replacing or reselling network equipment.

CEO Gordon Smith says reduce and reuse are essential and companies should be finding ways to repair, resell and replace goods to best support their businesses.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith says it’s important to educate companies about the potential in their IT equipment, so fewer devices are being wasted.

“Having said that, I hope that many companies and business leaders will come out the other side of this realizing the potential of reusing equipment instead of discarding items. I’m sure they will see the value that refurbished equipment provided during a time of need, and hopefully that can sway any previous perceptions of refurbished equipment,” Smith says.

Even if a company doesn’t have a use for equipment, Smith says those items can still be useful for others. Having 1,700 customers in 80 countries allows Sagent to analyze the equipment and find potential uses elsewhere while decommissioning data, so information remains safe.

For Sagent, the biggest impact from COVID-19 has been the delays in receiving items to refurbish. However separating work zones, using personal protective equipment and sanitizing facilities have allowed work to continue, even at a slightly slower pace.

Smith does anticipate more companies wanting to be prepared with more technology for remote work, should this happen again, but does believe we will see a higher level of e-scrap generated as life returns to normal.

"For example, if the average personal computer is used for three years and that turnover rate holds, it will be applied to a larger deployed base of technology, thus creating higher levels of e-waste in the long term,” Smith says.