Don’t look back, Satchel Paige sagely advised. Something might be gaining on you. In the case of commercial and institutional facilities, the challenge posed by electronic waste is gaining on them rapidly.
Most maintenance and engineering managers already are well aware of the e-waste problem. Pictures of huge piles of discarded computer monitors, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and fluorescent lamps have popped up regularly in recent years accompanying articles discussing the hazards these materials present.
Universities, school districts, hospitals and government office buildings are among the largest generators of these materials, and their rates of disposal are growing with each subsequent generation of computer technology.
One element of the e-waste issue that managers might not be as aware of involves the growing debate in state legislatures over regulation of e-waste disposal.
California recently enacted Senate Bills 20 and 50, which regulate e-waste disposal in that state. As with many issues, other states are watching California to gauge the effect of the legislation and to take cues in writing their own laws. In fact, another 20 states are formulating similar legislation, according to computertakeback.com, a coalition of environmental groups.
Because maintenance departments play a central role in the disposal of e-waste, managers who develop a strategy now can stay ahead of the looming e-waste curve.
A good first step is to develop and maintain lists of computer and electronic equipment within their facilities. Given the size of some organizations and the number of facilities and electronic components, starting this process now is likely to pay off down the road. Two good next steps are determining collection points for e-waste and finding a qualified recycling firm.
The key point managers should keep in mind — and remind executives of — is that the generator of e-waste is responsible for the material.
On second thought, managers would be smart to take a good, hard look back at what’s gaining on them.