Joel Patterson, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Dallas, is founder and CEO of The Vested Group, an award-winning NetSuite solutions provider that implements cloud-based solutions for growing companies. After working with a company in the IT Asset Disposition industry, Joel learned about the massive problem of e-waste and the complexity of electronics recycling. Joel and his wife felt compelled to spread the word about the mounting environmental crisis by producing a 25-minute documentary film, Silicon Mountain. We asked Joel about the mounting challenge our world faces around e-waste. Here's what he shared:
What inspired you to bring the issue of e-waste to the forefront with the short film, Silicon Mountain?
In 2013, my company engaged with a struggling client that opened our eyes to a hidden mountain of electronic waste. We saw the e-waste industry as an opportunity to do good by helping clients improve their ability to refurbish more electronics and properly recycle what's left. A short-format documentary felt like the perfect way to bring awareness to a large audience. We had never made a short film before. The experience was both invigorating and exhausting--but we would do it again in a heartbeat.
What surprising facts did you learn about e-waste?
- 416,000 smartphones are thrown away globally each day!
- 80 to 85 percent of e-waste finds its way into landfills or incinerators where its toxic metals including cadmium, mercury, lead, chromium and nickel are leached into the groundwater or released into the air, poisoning people and animals
- 22 to 55 million tons of e-waste are discarded each year; that's comparable to throwing away 1,000 laptops every second
- In the US alone, we throw $344 million in gold, $46 million in silver, and $10 million in copper into the trash, just from the cellphones we drop into the garbage each year
What challenges do entrepreneurs in the e-waste recycling space confront?
Electronics recyclers see a very complex stream of waste materials coming into their recycling centers. These include anything with a circuit board: mobile devices, traditional desktop computers, rechargeable devices, printers, cell phones, industrial control boards, DVD players, video games and every other imaginable device. They span the timeframe from old-school computers from the 1980s to AirPods made in 2020. All in one truck. How do you even start to process such an astonishing range of materials?
The foundational component of any enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is an individual item. But e-waste recyclers can't start with an item because each truck delivers such a massive variety of e-waste. The e-waste recyclers don't know what's in the supply truck, but it's their job to start processing every item immediately.
If an ERP system is based on items--and you don't know what those items are--you need a business management system like reVESTED that can essentially work in reverse to accommodate the complexity of the process.
Tell us about reVESTED.
We built reVESTED 100 percent on the Oracle NetSuite platform to provide the necessary functionality to support every area of an e-waste recycling business: accounting, order-taking, inventory control, and every other process. With reVESTED, we designed an ERP system to give electronics recyclers the means to "create" an item within the system on the fly. It also features a cleanup process so administrators can verify that each item was captured correctly.
The cloud-based solution helps empower e-waste processers to receive items, repair them, and sell them back into the secondary electronics industry to make money. That sustainability in their business model ensures they can continue to do what's good for all of us--and the planet.
What actions can consumers and entrepreneurs take to lower e-waste generation?
We invite you to put a new spin on an old recycling catchphrase--instead of reduce, reuse, recycle, we like to say reduce, repair, recycle.
- Reduce. First, reduce the amount of upgrading you do with the electronics in your life. Just because a new version comes out doesn't mean you need to replace your current version.
- Repair. Next, repair or refurbish electronics when possible. You'd be surprised at the new life you can breathe into an item with a simple battery replacement. In 2018, over 10 million people accessed iFixit's guides to replace the batteries on their iPhones.
- Recycle. If a repair is not feasible, then look up your local certified e-waste recycler and recycle your electronics responsibly.
Less than 20 percent of global e-waste is formally recycled. It takes over 200 pounds of raw material to make the cell phone in your pocket. The goal is to make sure we don't have to continue to extract more and more precious minerals from the Earth to feed the supply chain of new products. There's a plethora of those materials available in items that may be sitting unused in your drawer.
By working together, we can adopt a more practical, sustainable solution to protect our planet and its resources for future generations.