Electronic devices are a staple of modern life. Technology like laptops, smartphones, printers, and notebooks dominate workplaces and our homes. But what becomes of them once they’re broken or deemed ‘out of date’? The reality is the majority end up in landfill sites.
This e-waste can release toxic chemicals, such as lead, zinc, and barium, into the atmosphere. In landfills the equipment’s toxic materials seep into groundwater affecting land and sea animals, as well as the health of the people in developing countries where much of the e-waste ends up. Bruker BioSpin, however, is affording them the opportunity of a second life by partnering with a specialist recycling organisation.
Like many companies across the world, at Bruker BioSpin, our use of electronic devices is significant. Exacerbating the issue is the shorter lifespan of devices: warranties for laptops typically last for four years whereas those for smartphones tend to cover only two years. Whenever members of staff are issued with new equipment they ask what to do with their old devices. In truth, we didn’t have a reasonable answer because there was no formalised process in place for hardware end-of-life. Having recognized this, we wanted to find a solution that felt responsible and beneficial.
Our stance on forming a cohesive plan for our IT waste was galvanized after researching AfB, a not-for-profit company with a social and ecological business concept. This inclusive Ettlingen-based company employs people with disabilities – in fact around 43 percent of employees have a disability – to clean and refurbish old IT equipment and mobile devices donated by companies and public organizations.
Devices that can be fixed are resold in one of their own shops, either from a retail unit or online. The company professionally disassembles any hardware that is beyond repair at its in-house facility, saving functional components to serve as spare parts. The remaining elements are separated into mono materials and transferred to certified recycling centres across Europe.
AfB also collects our old equipment and performs certified data deletion before they remove the hardware to their facility. Once a year, the company provides us with a detailed CSR certificate stating how we have contributed to social and ecological benefits.
The initiative will start with Bruker BioSpin in Germany. In the fullness of time, we intend to roll this out across other Bruker sites in France and Switzerland where AfB also has subsidiaries. By contributing to a scheme that aims to reuse devices, we are helping to decrease the demand for metals and minerals mining, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save hours of energy associated with the production of new devices. Donating old hardware so that it can have a second life creates a market of more cost-effective devices, which helps to promote digital inclusion.
AfB has been operating for 15 years, and in that time has saved 87, 270 tons of CO2, the equivalent of 5 return flights every day for 15 years from Berlin to New York, and has saved enough energy to power 7,500 households for 15 years. Working with AfB also gives us the satisfaction of helping to generate workplaces for people with disabilities. We are very proud to partner with this sustainable business, and hope to continue the relationship for many years to come.