Security Shredding and Storage - a shredding industry publication


By P.J. Heller

With advances in technology coming seemingly at warp speed these days, Trace Feinstein is trying to deal with all the electronics equipment that has been left in the dust.

Desktop and laptop computers, facsimile machines, copiers and printers are among the electronic gizmos that are eclipsed on almost a daily basis by newer, faster, cheaper and more feature-laden equipment.


Keeping that outmoded computer and electronic equipment out of the landfill — while safely and securely disposing of it and the information that it contains — has been Feinstein’s goal for the past several years.


His e-Scrap Destruction company in Islandia, N.Y., shreds and recycles electronic detritus — “anything with a battery or a cord other than kitchen appliances,” he says — with a zero landfill policy ensuring that no item is ever sent to the dump.


“There is a growing and imminent waste crisis about to hit the USA — computer and electronic waste,” Feinstein predicts on his Web site at www.escrapdestruction.com. “Computer and electronic waste is growing at an escalating rate in the USA and Canada and consumers do not know what to do with it.


“It has been estimated that over three-quarters of all computers ever bought in the USA are currently stored in people’s homes and offices,” he notes. “If everyone disposed of these, the U.S. would face a huge waste problem all at once.”


And, he adds, “Most consumers are unaware of the toxic and sensitive materials in the products they rely on for word processing, data management and access to the Internet, as well as for electronic games. In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic.


“E-Scrap Destruction’s mission is to protect consumers confidential information, while also protecting the environment,” he says.


Feinstein’s focus on both security and environmental issues is what he says helps set his company apart from many other businesses that promote recycling of electronic equipment. Rather than what he calls “asset management,” whereby equipment is upgraded, repaired or modified and then resold (or in some cases shipped overseas), e-Scrap Destruction shreds everything using a machine he had specially built by Allegheny Paper Shredders of Delmont, Pa.


Feinstein, president of e-Scrap Destruction, was familiar with Allegheny from his days running a paper shredding business. He began offering secure destruction services about 10 years ago, then began concentrating on e-waste four years ago.


“I used to have my own paper shredding company and a lot of my customers kept asking me about [recycling] their hard drives and computers,” he recalls. “When I started doing a little research into that industry, I found that the way people were doing it wasn’t really recycling. It was really more asset management. They would take the equipment in, sometimes for free, then fix it up or re-sell it. It wasn’t the true way of recycling computers.”


Today, Feinstein’s growing company has nine employees and handles 100,000-200,000 pounds of e-waste a month. Nationwide, some 1.8 million tons of electronics are recycled annually, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.


After running the electronic equipment through the shredder, the minute-size material is separated and then sent to a refinery, which sells the raw material to companies for use in making new products. Hazardous materials, such as lead from monitors and TV cathode ray tubes, is sealed in 55-gallon drums and sent to an environmental services company for proper disposal.


Feinstein’s customers range from large hospitals and school districts to local townships, including Hempstead, one of the largest in the nation which regularly schedules its STOP — Stop Throwing Out Pollutants — program. The last time the Nassau County, N.Y., township ran its STOP program, it generated 200,000 pounds of e-waste, Feinstein reports.


“We saw close to 1,500 cars drive by between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” he says.


The bulk of items being recycled are computers, copiers, printers and fax machines. He also takes in telephone systems, stereos, VCRs and telecommunications equipment.

“Just about anything and everything you can imagine we’ve seen,” he says, adding that one of the most unusual items was one of the earliest Apple computers.


Feinstein notes there has been a sizable increase in the number of television sets being dropped off.


“When we do these STOP programs, residents are pulling up with not just one or two TVs, they’re pulling up with three or four TVs,” he says.


Part of that may be due to a national plan for U.S. broadcasters to transmit their TV signals only in digital form, making millions of older TVs obsolete unless the owner purchases a digital converter box. That digital transition was scheduled to take place Feb. 17.

Also adding to the glut of TVs coming in for recycling is the move to large-screen LCD and plasma displays, Feinstein says. Some retail stores selling the big-screen sets offer to take in a customer’s older set; at least one local chain is sending e-Scrap a truckload of TVs every day, he reports.


Feinstein charges customers by the piece or by the pound, then collects income at the back end from the refineries selling the raw materials. Among the materials that can be recovered are steel, aluminum, glass, plastic and precious metals.


Feinstein says electronics are the fastest-growing portion of the nation’s trash, estimating that 350 million computers became obsolete last year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 235 million electronic products — computers, monitors, TVs and hard copy peripherals such as printers, scanners and fax machines — have accumulated in storage as of 2007.


Americans own about 24 electronic products per household, according to the Consumer Electronics Federation.


With those kinds of numbers, Feinstein expects business to remain brisk and is looking forward to expanding his operation along the East Coast. He says the nation’s economic downturn has had little impact on his business, but notes that prices being paid for most raw materials has fallen substantially. Steel, for instance, has dropped from 12 cents a pound to 4 cents a pound.


To offset the drop in commodity prices, Feinstein has concentrated on sending precious metals to a refinery that recovers gold.


Feinstein admits that recycling of e-waste is an industry that is in its infancy.


“It evolves every day. There is no wrong or right way to do it, as long as you’re taking in the material and recycling it appropriately,” he says.


EPA figures indicate that few were doing it the “right way.” The agency said of the 2.25 million tons of cell phones and computer products at the end of their life, only 18 percent (414,000 tons) was recycled while 82 percent, or 1.84 million tons, was disposed of, primarily in landfills.


Before launching e-Scrap Destruction, Feinstein researched different companies in Canada and overseas, particularly Europe.


“They’re way ahead of us when it comes to recycling electronics,” he contends. They’re years and years ahead of us. We’re playing catch-up right now in the states.”


His research convinced him that he wanted to recycle electronics, not do asset management.


“What I saw were a lot of companies doing asset management and marketing themselves as recyclers,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to stay away from . . . It wasn’t the true way of recycling computers. I wanted to get into the true recycling and end-of-life of these electronics. So I focused on companies that I thought were doing it the right way as opposed to asset managing this equipment.”


Feinstein says donating used computer equipment to charitable groups or others can pose problems for businesses, who he says may still be ultimately responsible for the equipment when it reaches its end of life. Another issue is whether an older machine can run current software. There also may be concerns about whether information on the machine can be retrieved.


Feinstein’s recycling business appears to have caught the public’s attention.


“Right now it’s a very easy sale [to obtain unwanted electronics],” Feinstein says. “We call the companies and their response is, ‘Thank god. Where have you guys been?’


“I can guarantee you that somewhere in your house there’s an old computer, an old cell phone, an old radio, something that’s just been laying around for god knows how long,” he says. “That’s what we’re finding with a lot of residents and businesses. They’ve just been holding onto this stuff waiting for someone to take it away and do the right thing.”

Feinstein believes that e-Scrap Destruction is doing just that.


“We’re doing good by the environment, recycling and keeping a lot of pollutants out of the landfills,” he says.


An article about his company in the New York Times helped convince him that he was on a proper path.


“What really struck a chord was when the New York Times article came out, we were just flooded with calls from people wanting to invest in the company, who wanted to start their own company and a lot of calls came in just thanking us for something good for the environment. That really hit home.”

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