By Marisa Head, Contributing Writer at Cobalt

When I was around 12 years old, I figured out how to take apart computer towers and see what’s going on inside. I’ve always been curious about the inner workings of things, and had access to PCs at school and at home to tinker with. Granted, there’s not much you can tell about a computer by looking at it unless you already know what all the pieces are and what they do. But the idea that all those parts and pieces were what made the computer work captured my imagination.

A full twenty years later, I again found myself armed with a screwdriver and carefully prying apart computer casings to see what they came equipped with. For a few weeks, I had the opportunity to cross-train with our electronics refurbishment team, testing units to determine whether they were eligible for refurbishment and resale.

The difference is that now I know what I’m looking at when I take a laptop or desktop tower apart. I can also appreciate just how far technology has surged ahead in those twenty years. In many ways, the pieces themselves — RAM, motherboards, heat sinks, graphics cards, disc drives — look the same. But they’re capable of so much more: more data storage, better speed, high quality graphics displays. When I think of my first heavy, clunky laptop, running Windows 98, and compare it to some of the units we’re processing at Cobalt, it really puts computing advancements in perspective.

The workplace has moved beyond Windows 98, too.

More and more businesses are issuing laptops as mobile workstations to equip an increasingly mobile workforce. In some cases, tablets are filling the role that clipboards of documents used to, with the advantages of internet connectivity and a built-in camera. Mobility has a lot of advantages, but it also subjects devices to a lot more wear and tear than the standard office desktops ever faced.

When you take a laptop or tablet apart and see just how tightly packed everything is in there, it’s not surprising that these devices can be so fragile and susceptible to bumps, drops, impacts, and cracks. They’re designed for efficient use of space, and that doesn’t include much padding or buffer. That’s only become more true as manufacturers have pushed toward thinner, lightweight handhelds. The average turnover rate for IT equipment is three years, as a result of both wear and tear, and needing more computing power to keep up with the latest generations of software.

But it’s a mistake to think of this equipment as “e-waste.”

The ultimate goal of recycling is to reduce waste, and one of the best ways to do that is to keep usable materials – and equipment – in circulation for as long as possible before they are replaced. That’s why e-recyclers like Cobalt are emphasizing refurbishment, resale, and reuse of electronics, not just shredding them for material. Not only does it reduce the volume of electronics that wind up in landfills or overseas, it can generate more value for your business than simply selling the equipment as scrap.

Often there’s only one major thing wrong with a piece of equipment that renders it unusable. Even if one critical component is damaged, it’s very likely that a unit still has value. It could be repaired and refurbished, or else dismantled for sellable parts like RAM and hard drives.

If you want to protect the value of your equipment, treat it right. Units that might otherwise have had resale value can be downgraded or disqualified because of a banged-up case, a cracked screen, missing keys on the keyboard, or a busted hinge on a laptop screen. Consider issuing padded cases or bags to employees using laptops or tablets to prevent excess wear and tear that could diminish the equipment’s value.

No certifications = Security red flag

You want to make sure to choose an electronics recycler that is certified by R2 or e-Stewards to guarantee that data-bearing devices like hard drives are handled securely and all data is destroyed. Some e-scrap recyclers simply collect electronics and sell them in bulk with no data security measures at all. Certification prohibits this behavior and even requires the ITAD company to hold its buyers to the same standards. (Learn more about Cobalt’s R2 Certification)

Bulk sales e-scrappers and brokers can operate this way because they save on the costs of testing, sanitizing, refurbishing, and shredding that are necessary to dispose of electronics responsibly. So while they may be selling a lower-quality, higher-risk product, they can still maintain their bottom lines. Certifications themselves also require significant investment and are backed up by regular audits. Be alert anytime a recycler offers to take your electronics for free – this could indicate that they’re not investing in the appropriate measures to protect your data.

You could be leaving money on the table this way, too. A laptop with 2GB of onboard memory, a 120GB hard drive, and a fifth-generation processor has less resale value than one with 8GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive, and a seventh-generation processor. But if you’re a business looking to dispose of your retired equipment in bulk, and your vendor isn’t a certified, full-service ITAD provider, no one is taking your units apart to see what they’re really worth. You get what you get: a bulk, wholesale price. That’s the cost of convenience over certification.

No matter what you have to dispose of, there’s value in it.

A good ITAD partner will help you discover and recover that value, while reducing your exposure to risk and respecting the environment.