What’s the Difference Between an Electronics Recycler and ITAD Services?

When you have electronics to dispose of, you want to make sure you’re getting the job done right. After all, the security of your business could be on the line, especially when you’re disposing of sensitive technology like computers or computer hard drives. 

An industry of firms that specialize in technology disposal to get rid of their old phones, computers, and other hardware has emerged to handle the growing volume of electronic waste around the globe. There’s also a range of services that fall under the heading of electronics disposal, and some offer more layers of protection than others. It’s worth doing your due diligence to choose the right provider for your needs, but unless you’re well versed in the regulations around waste and data disposal, or have a lot of time on your hands to compare quotes, it may be hard to know just what you’re screening for. We’re here to give you a basic run-through of the two main types of companies that specialize in electronics disposal: electronics recyclers and ITAD providers. Once you know this,, you’ll be a big step closer to successfully getting rid of your IT hardware and minimizing your liability. 

What Do Electronics Recyclers Do? 

Electronic recycling companies specialize in collecting hardware and diverting it from landfills, typically by dismantling and/or destroying the units to recover their materials. Those materials are then sorted, processed, and sold back into manufacturing as scrap. Anything that can’t be re-used is often incinerated. 

Electronics recyclers might take material from both the public and from businesses, or be hired for an electronics take-back event. Some provide refurbishment and resale while others are looking for bulk shipments or only certain types of units. Metal scrap yards will also sometimes take electronics. 

Before you hand over your assets to the first company who can send a truck, though, it’s worth asking just a few questions to vet their credentials and reputation. They should be willing and able to answer questions about where your material goes afterward, how they protect the chain of custody, and where your liability ends. Think of it like shopping for car insurance: there are minimum rates that will keep you on the road but still leave you on the hook in other ways. A responsible recycler protects their business and yours.

Just as your regular recycling service isn’t going to look through your bin and mention that you might have been able to get a good deal on your old chair if you’d listed it on eBay, an electronics recycler isn’t going to tell you if you’re disposing of technology you could have sold elsewhere for profit. In fact, it’s unlikely you will make much money from the material value of the electronics when they’re recycled for scrap, and may need to pay to remove certain items like TVs and monitors.

If you’re looking to get back some of the value of your original hardware investment, refurbishing and remarketing (or resale) are offered by some electronics recyclers, and that’s where you begin to bridge into the second category: ITAD services. 

What Do ITAD Providers Do? 

ITAD stands for IT Asset Disposition. Just like recycling companies, they specialize in taking your old technology and getting rid of it for you. 

However, these companies have a different priority from recyclers, who are chiefly after the materials and often deal in bulk volumes. Unlike recycling companies, ITAD companies understand there’s more value to old technology than what it’s made of, and a lot of it isn’t waste.

ITAD providers consider not only the risk posed by the materials in electronics and what happens to those materials in landfills, but the risk to your company once your data leaves your hands. They’re more likely than standard electronics recyclers to have practices in place specifically for data-bearing devices. That’s anything with a hard drive or memory card, and when you think about it, that describes a lot of devices these days. ITAD providers will have more than one way of ensuring your devices are clean before they go on to their next life, whatever that might be.

Similarities Between ITAD Services and Electronics Recycling

There are actually a few major similarities between ITAD services and electronics recycling services. They often work together as part of the same supply chain.

Whether you choose electronics recycling or ITAD services, you’re still diverting solid waste from the landfill and preventing environmental harm that could occur if those devices were handled improperly. Many of the most common electronics contain elements and chemicals like flame retardants or mercury that pose serious health risks to humans. Both types of companies can dispose of wasteful materials as cleanly as possible.

Both companies are also able to recycle products that can’t be reused. This means that any technology that has truly reached the end of its usefulness can be discarded, recycled, and made into something new. 

There are two major electronics recycling certification credentials, R2 and eStewards, and both electronics recyclers and ITAD providers can hold these certifications.

Differences Between ITAD Providers and Electronics Recycling

Although there are many similarities between ITAD providers and electronics recycling providers, there are major differences as well. 

Some electronics recyclers process material themselves, while others are brokers or middlemen, often specializing in a certain commodity like laptops, RAM, or CPUs. They may make offers on bulk volumes of electronics but not be involved with the disposition of the hardware itself, or be able to tell you much about where it goes.

The biggest differences between the two providers are that ITAD providers, unlike electronics recycling providers, will use multiple ways to extend the lifespan of the electronics, not just reclaiming the material, and often provide extra liability protections. 

ITAD providers have a different take on waste reduction: reuse is the best form of recycling. A great deal of electronics get retired from use before their time is truly up, simply because they’re outdated and can’t keep up with modern needs. ITAD providers may triage, test, and dismantle units to recover things that are too valuable to be destroyed for scrap, rather than throw everything together and call it all e-waste.  Fewer electronics need to be built each year if we repurpose the electronics we already have. This means that, when you use ITAD services, you’re choosing to invest in fewer fossil fuels while also providing low-cost electronics to people who need them. 

When Should You Choose Electronics Recycling?

Electronics recycling companies have their place. If you feel confident that everything you have is  unsalvageable and does not still contain any sensitive data, and if you don’t need documentation for audits, electronics recycling providers will take your technology away and recycle it for you. You can clear up space and walk away knowing that you chose a more environmentally conscious option than simply having it junked. 

When Should You Choose ITAD Services?

If, on the other hand, your units aren’t ready to put out to pasture just yet, or you have significant risk exposure when it comes to private data, it could be worth enlisting an ITAD provider to cross the t’s and dot the i’s before your IT assets leave your sight. 

ITAD services are there for your peace of mind. These providers specialize in wiping your information, so nothing about your company will fall into the wrong hands. This is much safer than, for example, selling an old computer off to your nephew’s friend after clearing the cache yourself. ITAD providers clear your data at a much deeper level than you can do yourself. 

And for any technology that can’t be repurposed or refurbished, the best ITAD companies are still equipped to safely recycle the equipment in an environmentally friendly manner. 

How Do You Get Started with ITAD Technologies? 

With the average turnover rate of a workplace laptop being two to three years, many companies would benefit from a relationship with an  ITAD company who can work with you to retire your hardware responsibly and consistently. If that sounds like you, we can help. Cobalt is a certified, experienced  ITAD company that triages every unit that comes through our docks to determine the best case for its disposal. Items that can be repurposed are carefully scrubbed of all data about your company, refurbished if needed, and sold in a way that benefits your company. All other technology is safely recycled. If you’re ready to learn more about what Cobalt can do for you, contact us today.