IT Equipment Recycling and Disposal: A Sustainable Solution for Networking Equipment in Singapore

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Networking equipment can contain hazardous materials such as lead and mercury, hence making it imperative that safe and responsible methods are utilized in the disposal of such items. In light of this, the NEA has implemented the e-waste management strategies to encourage both businesses and households to engage in earth-friendly practices that can help sustain our limited environment, endanger less human health and help save costs in the long run. The aim is to improve the industry’s current e-waste recycling rate of 6% and reduce the 60,000 to 109,000 tonnes of e-waste disposed of annually.

The rise of globalization, industrialization, and communication in the last two decades has accelerated the need for networking equipment in both the office and at home. Due to increasing demand and advances in technology, equipment rapidly becomes outdated and necessary to replace. This phenomenon has created a mounting problem in the way of excess and obsolete equipment. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has stated that in year 2017, electronic waste (e-waste) ranged from 60,000 to 109,000 tonnes and only 6% of this waste is being recycled. This is a worrying statistic as the material in e-waste is said to contain substances that are hazardous to the environment if left in landfills and incinerated.

Importance of IT Equipment Recycling and Disposal

To expand, if an organization fails to properly dispose of their IT equipment, there is a high potential for a data security breach to occur. This can be rather detrimental to an organization, especially if the data that was breached was sensitive information. This can result in legal action being taken against the organization and ultimately a loss in customer loyalty – a very costly consequence. That aside, if IT equipment is not properly disposed, it is often dumped into landfills, incinerators, or third-world countries. This can contribute to environmental and health problems due to the hazardous materials that are found in IT equipment. Failure to address these concerns can result in damage to an organization’s public image, its credit rating, and loss of customer loyalty and satisfaction. Ultimately, these consequences greatly outweigh the short-term cost-saving initiatives that were made to improperly dispose of the IT equipment.

Proper IT equipment disposal is extremely important to the environment as well as the company that is disposing of the equipment. In today’s global market, it is often very difficult for a company to stay ahead of their competitors. As a result, the company may take short-term cost-saving initiatives by neglecting their responsibility to properly dispose of their IT equipment. However, this is merely a short-term cost-saving initiative that often results in redundant costs and loss of productivity. This is primarily due to the potential data security breaches and environmental impact costs that could possibly occur as a result of improper disposal methods.

Environmental Impact of Improper Disposal

The improper disposal of electronic and electrical waste, also known as e-waste, can have severe environmental implications. The hazardous materials present in e-waste include lead, cadmium, mercury, and chromium. These are known to cause significant contamination of water, soil, and air. In an incinerator, plastics from electronic products generate dioxins when burned. The combustion of the plastics in computers and other electronic equipment can also produce toxic or carcinogenic by-products such as furans. Even the burning of a wire can result in the release of noxious fumes into the surrounding air. Moreover, the export of e-waste has caused health problems for those in developing countries who work to salvage materials from discarded equipment. On the whole, these chemicals can cause a whole host of health problems for humans and animals, including cancers, nervous system damage, and reproductive disorders. E-waste also presents an issue globally as it is the fastest-growing form of waste. The Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, specifically targets e-waste as a serious problem and prevents developing nations from becoming the recipients of toxic materials to the extent that it compromises their futures.

IT Equipment Recycling Services in Singapore

These vendors provide both B2B and B2C services, and yet their main clients are still international firms and local SMBs who are looking for ways to dispose of IT equipment in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.

Today, there are three main providers of IT equipment recycling and disposal services. These are: (1) TES-AMM, (2) Cimelia, and (3) Virogreen. TES-AMM is a global leader in the provision of e-waste management services. They have a facility that is capable of recycling up to 30,000 metric tons of e-waste and an expected annual turnover of $12 million. Cimelia is the only service provider with a recycling facility; they are able to provide an auditable and sustainable e-waste management program. Virogreen is also able to provide such a program and differentiates themselves by specializing in data destruction with their own unique and proprietary method.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) and other relevant government bodies work in partnership with local IT vendors and businesses to create e-waste management programs to promote the recycling of e-waste. The NEA also conducts regular inspection checks on e-waste recycling facilities to ensure that they comply with environmental and health safety regulations. This is done to prevent illegal dumping or exporting of e-waste to developing countries for crude recycling and disposal.

IT equipment recycling services in Singapore are available and provided by vendors. Usually, these services involve a comprehensive solution for the disposal of unwanted equipment. Services often include collection, data destruction, and providing a certificate of proper disposal.

Overview of IT Equipment Recycling Services

A basic approach towards recycling would involve the breaking down of the equipment into raw materials and recovery of any reusable components and materials. The materials that are retrieved can be used to manufacture new products, thus closing the loop on the product lifecycle. Currently, there are a wide variety of equipment being used in the IT industry. This makes the sorting process an important aspect of any recycling initiative. Different IT equipment would contain different types of materials. For example, a computer would contain plastic, ferrous and non-ferrous materials and a printed circuit board. Monitors and other display devices contain glass and hazardous materials such as lead. By sorting the equipment and materials, recyclers would be able to identify the materials that are hazardous to the environment and take the necessary steps to ensure that they are properly disposed. Materials that can be harmful include CFCs which are found in refrigerants in air-conditioners and freezers, and lithium batteries from various equipment. Failure to remove and treat these hazardous materials can result in adverse effects on the environment and even on human health.

IT equipment recycling services mainly focus on the potential value contained within the IT equipment at the point of disposal. Therefore, it is essential for any recycling initiative to adopt strategies that enable the recovery of this value. With the development of technology in the IT industry, there is a need to upgrade and replace old equipment with new ones. This generates an increasing amount of electronic waste. In Singapore, where the IT industry plays a vital role in the country’s economy, electronic waste is becoming a serious environmental problem. According to a report from NEA in 2008, it is estimated that about 60,000 tons of e-waste was generated, which is twice the amount generated in 2001. But only about 10% of the e-waste is being recycled. The rest of the e-waste goes into the incinerators and landfills which can result in the release of harmful toxins to the environment due to the presence of hazardous materials in the equipment. Hence, it is crucial that an effective strategy be devised for the recycling of IT equipment. With the increasing concern about global environmental issues, companies now have to take into account the social responsibility of the disposal of their IT equipment.

Collection and Sorting Process

At this stage, data storage devices are removed from the equipment (if this has not already been carried out) and placed into a secure area to be dealt with later in the process. Any equipment that is deemed suitable for reuse is sorted once more into respective categories. All other items are passed through the processing stage and these processes are detailed in section 2.3. This is typically the final process before the equipment is passed onto dismantling and component recovery.

The collection and sorting process involves a series of well-planned steps to ensure that each piece of equipment is handled in the most efficient and environmentally-friendly procedure. Collection services range from a small amount of equipment to large scale projects tailored to the client’s specific needs. Usually, equipment is packed into manageable boxes and transported to a sorting facility. Equipment is either sent by road to a licensed sorting and recycling facility or, for larger projects, palletized and transported directly. During the sorting process, equipment is separated into distinct categories of IT equipment for the purposes of processing, effective recovery and recycling. Items are sorted into ‘like with like’ piles of servers and server components, PCs and PC peripherals, networking equipment, communication devices and components such as cables and connectors.

Data Destruction and Security Measures

As IT equipment often contains sensitive and confidential information, data protection is a primary concern when recycling computing equipment. However, data destruction offers a solution to this issue, which is associated with an array of potential security risks. Many data destruction methods exist which provide a viable solution to security concerns and can also deliver value back to the owner. For example, when particular emphasis is put on the security element of the process, methods such as on-site hard drive destruction, being a physical method, are available to ensure that the data cannot be retrieved and also offer the added bonus of recycling the materials after data destruction. Encryption is a reversible transformation of data to a format such that it can only be returned to the original format by a specific process, usually a password. Finally, removing the hard drive of the machine offers a simple solution to data destruction and is a method often used in conjunction with donating computer equipment. All methods of data destruction, and particularly those which ensure the data cannot be recovered, can alleviate security concerns often enough to persuade companies to recycle their IT equipment.

IT Asset Disposition in Singapore

The benefits of ITAD are plentiful, and recent drives to improve environmental sustainability have brought the issue under the spotlight for many organizations. The possibility of a data breach is now a huge risk with potential for crippling costs to businesses if sensitive data is lost or stolen. Fines from regulatory non-compliance can also add substantial costs to a business. Mitigating these risks by ensuring that a secure chain of custody and certified tracking of assets is provided through various ITAD services can be a huge cost saver in the long run. Additionally, the global market that now exists for used IT equipment has opened up the possibility for a return on value from retired assets. Organizations can recover a portion of the original value of hardware through various buyback and revenue-sharing programs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the rising costs of environmentally friendly e-waste disposal in many countries are now forcing corporations to ensure that their old equipment is recycled in an ecologically friendly and ethical manner.

IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) is a process that retires IT equipment in a secure and environmentally compliant manner. This process includes a number of activities usually attained through a third-party ITAD provider. These activities encompass a range of solutions that include data erasure, data destruction, equipment redeployment, resale, recycling, and charitable donations. The main aims for organizations implementing ITAD policies are cost reduction, risk management, and fulfilling corporate social responsibility on the disposition of equipment. networking equipment disposal in singapore ITAD providers in Singapore play a crucial role in the sustainable disposal and recycling of IT equipment. They ensure the proper handling and disposal of electronic waste in accordance with environmental regulations.

Understanding IT Asset Disposition

An ITAD strategy must encompass a variety of activities in order to be effective. Firstly, organizations need to plan when to dispose of assets. This decision is influenced by a number of factors, such as changes in technology or computing needs and the rotating of leased equipment, for example. Miscalculating the right time to dispose can be damaging. Organizations that dispose of equipment too early incur unnecessary depreciation costs, while excessive use of obsolete equipment increases the risk of data loss or security breaches. The public sector, in particular, is at risk of falling foul of regulatory requirements. In addition, technology equipment has an environmental impact at all stages of its lifecycle, therefore aligning the disposal to recycling process to maximize recovery of materials should also be considered. Once the time is right, the method of data destruction and equipment disposal must be considered. The main concern regarding data security and breaches will require a separate article to do it justice. Expired data can exist in many forms including information with third parties, leased equipment, surplus parts stored onsite or offsite, and of course software and media. This will usually require a combination of data erasure and physical destruction from a trusted provider. Exercising some degree of corporate social responsibility, many organizations also try to find an environmentally friendly solution for e-waste rather than simply provisioning equipment for landfill or incineration. E-waste has become an important issue in Singapore and disposing in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way is no easy task.

Benefits of IT Asset Disposition

Data security is something that has become an increasing concern, with information assets held in IT equipment being a gold mine for identity theft. With every piece of data storage equipment, there is a risk. In 2005, HM Revenue & Customs suffered the loss of 2 CDs containing the personal records of 25 million UK citizens. The records were never found. By use of data wiping and the physical destruction of data storage devices offered in ITAD services, there is less risk of data loss or theft in a data breach (Angrave, 2007).

Using a reputable ITAD vendor to dispose of the assets can lead to a rather interesting benefit: the ability to claim back some of the losses in asset value for potentially out-of-date equipment. When catering to the needs of specific industry sectors, it is feasible to have assets redeployed according to specific industry regulations. This is a viable alternative to recycling and redeployment to the consumer marketplace.

The primary benefactor of IT asset disposition is the corporate community, although the advantages are felt all the way down to the consumer. The disposal of IT assets can lead to the creation of valuable space, or the chance to resell used but still valuable equipment. This could mean an increase in revenue and thus profitability. The increased cash flow can be set against the cost of redeployment and purchasing new equipment.

Compliance with Regulatory Requirements

An increasing number of countries have created legislation to manage the disposal of used computer equipment. The motive behind these laws is to prevent environmental damage, but also to avoid letting used computers waste become a burden on government finances. The European Union has passed the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, which has global implications. The United States has the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Various US states have also passed electronics recycling laws. Singapore has the regulation known as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations and the Code of Practice for the Recycling of Electrical and Electronic Products. In Japan, the Home Appliance Recycling Law requires consumers to pay a recycling fee and manufacturers to recycle used appliances. South Korea has passed the Act for Resource Recycling of Electrical and Electronic Equipment and Vehicles. China has passed measures on electrical and electronic waste recycling. Australia has a National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. All these measures seek to shift the cost of disposing of used computer equipment from the owner to the manufacturer. This can be well understood as economics, particularly the regulatory trend in shifting to a more of a “polluter pays” concept. In the relatively near future, this regulatory trend is likely to become a major driver for IT asset disposition amongst both consumers and enterprises.

In Singapore, most enterprises are not well prepared to apply environmental laws for the safe disposal of old computer systems and other electronic equipment. Disposing of computer equipment in landfills can lead to the release of toxic substances. In addition, valuable materials cannot be recovered from landfilled equipment. Replacing used computer equipment entails the risk of data loss, a concern in particular for consumers and companies disposing of computers. It is not uncommon for the data destruction and data recovery to cancel each other out. By disposing of computer equipment with data security in mind, there is a risk that data erasure and data destruction services could result in breaches of confidentiality.

Sustainable Networking Equipment Solutions

At present, the majority of information technology (IT) equipment in the networking industry depends on face-to-face sales in Singapore. Customers remove and trade in current tools purchases solely when their systems become old-fashioned or inoperable. When network hardware is removed and not replaced, it often finds its way into storage where it remains indefinitely. This is largely due to the fact that IT equipment loses value at an alarming rate after its initial purchase. Disposal of still valuable equipment is often seen as a loss, as the equipment is considered to have some form of residual value. Also, a significant amount of networking equipment is harmful to the environment due to the hazardous materials that it contains. This problem has been exacerbated in Singapore by the lack of environmental initiatives by networking equipment vendors and the lack of stringent environmental regulations. All these criteria make the disposal of networking equipment a problem for businesses in Singapore. E-Waste is defined as waste that includes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Used electronics which are destined for reuse, resell, salvage, recycling or disposal are also considered e-waste. E-waste is a rapidly growing and complex problem as Singapore continues to embrace the information technology age. A recent study by the Secretariat in 2008 predicted that as a whole, by the year 2020 Asia will be discarding 7-14 times more computers and computer equipment than in 2000, and in Singapore a staggering 3.2 million pieces of personal computers will become obsolete in the next couple of years due to the shorter lifespan of IT equipment and the rapid decrease in prices. E-waste has received attention in Singapore in recent years and the National Environment Agency (NEA) has implemented the Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS) which places the onus of collection and treatment of e-waste on the manufacturers. This has proven to be effective but PRS only covers e-waste generated locally. Many options have opened up for the disposal of equipment throughout the world including export for use in secondhand markets or for reuse, recycling or disposal, all of which have varying degrees of negative environmental impact. A cost-benefit analysis can then be performed to determine the best course of action for equipment that needs to be removed with regards to sustainability.

Reuse and Refurbishment of Networking Equipment

The key to reuse is the redirection of equipment from a user with surplus, to a user or application with need. Step one is thus the development of an inventory of what equipment exists, and an open market or exchange to enable those with surplus to find those with need. This is a non-trivial problem in the complex and proprietary world of IT equipment, but it is being addressed through a variety of industry initiatives and software tools. Once a match is made, step two is often the transfer of equipment from a user with low utilization to one with higher utilization, and here the economic incentives may be well aligned. User B buying a used product from User A, relative to buying new, represents a more efficient use of capital. Step three, in cases where the equipment is transferred to a user or application with longer-term deployment, is the extension of its useful life through repair, refurbishment or repurposing. Step four can be considered long-term reuse, where an equipment design may be recaptured with a new modern instance of the same design.

Reuse and refurbishment of networking equipment is growing in prominence as a strategy for prolonging the lifecycle of IT equipment, and thus minimizing e-waste. A number of high-profile companies, including IBM and HP, have initiated buyback or trade-in schemes that specifically target IT equipment. Similarly, many network operators trade in their networking equipment to equipment vendors in return for credit towards the purchase of new gear. The used equipment is then refurbished and resold in emerging markets. While these efforts are commendable, currently the primary motive is economic. To maximize profitability, equipment life is often artificially shortened by ceasing production of service of needed components. Also, a growing percentage of IT gear is being rendered obsolete because it is no longer supported by vendor software upgrades. This is a critical issue for network hardware, where the serviceable life of a well-engineered product often extends decade. A strategy is needed to recapture this equipment, and redirect it to alternative software and service models that extend well into the future.

Recycling and Recovery of Networking Equipment

The idea of recycling and recovery of IT equipment is present, but recycling networking equipment is not commonly practiced in Singapore. Many materials in equipment can be hazardous to the environment. For example, there are small amounts of lead in solders and copper cable. When incinerated or placed in a landfill, these toxins can cause adverse effects on public health (Telecommunication System Trade Board, 2009). There are effective ways to recycle networking equipment, and network hardware can be broken down into base elements and recycled. An example of an effective way is through Cisco’s Networking Equipment Recycling Programme. Cisco claims that through their recycling programme, they can recover 90% of equipment and by-products materials for recycling, where the non-recoverable 10% will be disposed of in an environmentally safe way. Cisco’s programme is effective as it can help reduce the amount of e-waste that goes into landfills, and the recovery of products for recycling can help the environment by reducing the amount of raw materials needed to produce new products (Cisco, 2013). Cisco has a vision to change the industry standard using a product stewardship standard. This will mean that when the product is at the end of its life cycle, the manufacturer will take back the product for recycling or recovery in an environmentally friendly way (Straits Times, 2012). This will be an effective solution to reducing e-waste.

As technology develops further and the demand for electronic goods grows, Singapore is facing a growing problem with electronic waste (e-waste). E-waste is one of the most fast-growing forms of waste, and the issue has become severe with Asia being one of the largest and fastest-growing dumping groups in the world. The UN Environmental Programme estimates that there has been more than 5 million tonnes of e-waste in Asia in 2020, and e-waste has caused severe pollution issues in certain countries. Singapore, being a small country, cannot afford to have e-waste cluttering our landfills and causing potential environmental and public health issues. It is with this that the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has set out to ensure Singapore can adapt sustainable ways of recycling and recovering IT equipment in order to reduce potential harm to the environment and public health (IDA, 2013). This chapter will look into providing solutions for businesses in Singapore who are looking to dispose of networking equipment in the most sustainable way.

Responsible E-Waste Management Practices

Responsible e-waste management practices thus emphasize waste minimization by extending product life, preventing hazardous substance release, and promoting clean production. These practices are implemented through a shift of efficiency preferences by consumers and manufacturers, as well as regulatory measures to encourage or enforce overall practice changes within the electronics industry.

End-of-life (EOL) takes many pathways corresponding with potential environmental and social impacts. Four primary EOL pathways for electronics exist, including reuse/resale, material recovery, incineration, and landfill. Reuse and resale extend product life, delay the need for new product manufacture, and substitute in other markets using EOL product. Material recovery refers to disassembly and recyclable material extraction primarily conducted in regions with less stringent environmental and occupational health standards. Incineration, done under regulated conditions, can recover energy and precious metals but poses potential health and environmental risks related to hazardous substances. Landfilling electronics product is the least resourceful pathway. networking equipment disposal in singapore In order to mitigate these impacts, responsible e-waste management practices.

Today’s electronics manufacturing industry faces conflicts in balancing environmental sustainability with economic feasibility. Electronics products require large amounts of resources, sometimes including hazardous substances that result in negative environmental impacts. Yet, the “short” product life cycles and quickly advancing technology cause high obsolescence rates, creating large quantities of product “waste.” The regulatory and voluntary solutions to managing this obsolescence and product waste through the electronics industry life cycle extend from “pollution prevention at the source” to “end-of-pipe” waste management through corporate social responsibility and extended producer responsibility.