Have you ever wondered what happens to your old office computer when the IT department comes through with a new one? I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ken Beyer, CEO of CloudBlue, an eco-friendly e-waste recycling company. After chatting with Ken, I was able to tour a local CloudBlue facility and see their e-waste recycling process firsthand.

E-waste (electronic waste) is a touchy topic among environmental advocates. For years, e-waste was simply shipped offshore for processing in Third World countries. However, e-waste can be hazardous and even toxic if not handled and disposed of properly, and in some areas this waste was handled by children.

Thankfully these hazards have been covered by media around the world, and now companies are not just looking at processing their e-waste in a more environmentally and human friendly manner, some companies are going as far as completely banning e-waste exports.

And this is where businesses like CloudBlue step in to help. In the last 12 months CloudBlue has recycled about 25 million pounds of e-waste from 144 different countries. None of the e-waste made its way into a landfill and none of the e-waste was exported.

CloudBlue’s mission is to help manage e-waste in a standard, compliant, and secure way so that companies can meet state, local, federal, and even international waste regulations as well as data security regulations. Think about e-waste generated by healthcare facilities or banks — both of these industries generate sensitive data that must be handled with the utmost of security.

CloudBlue’s services address all of these concerns. The company currently has 14 locations, 12 in the United States and two in Europe. The company’s business model is to set up new locations in large metropolitan areas so that CloudBlue can provide secure onsite services to those customers with more sensitive needs. CloudBlue dispatches its own trucks, operated by its own employees, and equipped with mobile hard drive shedders to customer sites within its operation area.

CloudBlue’s business model cuts out the middleman, which can be a security concern with sensitive data. CloudBlue employees work closely with each customer to ensure that every single hard drive scheduled for shredding gets processed on site before the truck leaves the parking lot. This alleviates much of the data security concern.

For customers that don’t require the additional data security measures, CloudBlue offers onsite pickup. Once the equipment is picked up, it is returned to the local CloudBlue facility where the fun work begins. CloudBlue staff sort the items and begin testing products that are not at their end of life. As I stepped into the facility, pallets of CRT monitors, printers, laptops, and servers as well as boxes of mice, keyboards, cables, and more greeted me. Did you know that there really isn’t a resell market for white mice and keyboards? That was just one little gem that I learned while on my tour.

Another interesting tidbit that I learned is that there is still a market for CRT monitors. If a CRT monitor is less than eight years old, the staff at CloudBlue will put it through a rigorous round of testing. If everything tests properly, then the monitor can be resold. If the CRT monitor doesn’t pass the testing, then it is sent to a downstream facility that is qualified to break down and recycle the parts.

CRT monitors contain hazardous materials, and a properly equipped facility needs to complete the recycling process. Although the monitors are shipped offsite, CloudBlue has thoroughly researched its partners and knows exactly what happens to these CRT monitors during every step of the recycling process. This data is reported back to the customer through CloudBlue’s online customer portal.

Hard drives that aren’t shredded on site are shredded at the CloudBlue facility. The big bucket of shredded hard drives that I saw was an urban miner’s dream. The circuit boards contain gold and other precious metals that can be harvested, refined, and reused in other electronics.

Every single asset that leaves a customer site is tracked and customers can log in to an online portal to track the status of their assets. Customers will be able to determine what was recycled, what products have been refurbished and resold, etc. This allows customers to paint a more complete picture in their annual sustainability reporting.

CloudBlue isn’t the only e-waste recycling firm out there, but Ken Beyer says that the company goes beyond just e-waste 1.0 and considers the process a professional service. The company is equipped to implement a solid e-waste recycling program across multiple customer locations, assigns each customer a dedicated account manager which comes with the benefit of a single point of contact, follows up with customers on a quarterly basis, and much more. This is definitely a value-added e-waste model.

CloudBlue is currently e-Stewards qualified and is in the middle of the e-Stewards certification process. The e-Stewards Initiative is overseen by the Basel Action Network (BAN), a nonprofit organization that was responsible for uncovering the seedy side of e-waste exports. CloudBlue is currently undergoing a third-party audit and expects to complete the e-Stewards certification progress later this month.

CloudBlue’s e-waste recycling program as well as the e-Stewards Initiative are changing the way electronic waste is handled both here in the United States and abroad. Next time the IT department comes through and replaces your PC, you’ll have a better idea of what may await that old computer.

MNN homepage photo: DonNichols/iStockphoto

CloudBlue: Eco-friendly e-waste recycling
CloudBlue's eco-friendly e-waste recycling program diverts 100% of electronic waste from local landfills.