The coronavirus pandemic has strained e-scrap collection, but that’s opening the door to an alternative recovery system that minimizes contact between people.
Mail-in device collection has for years been offered by electronics recovery firms in various forms, with many companies calling the strategy a “box program.” Now, the approach is taking on greater importance as in-person events get canceled and the offices that would previously be serviced by ITAD vendors remain closed.
“We’ve seen massive interest in the box program since the pandemic began,” said John Shegerian, co-founder and executive chairman of ERI. It’s not something ERI planned for, he said, but the program was up and running and was able to meet a need as COVID-19 took hold.
“Tens of millions of pounds were already being collected annually through our box program and we have seen a dramatic increase in 2020 for the box program specifically, so we are aware we are meeting a significant need with this,” Shegerian said.
Brent Berry, Ingram Micro’s executive director of client services for the Americas, said his company has offered the service for more than seven years. But he sees mail-in arrangements drawing greater focus as ITAD firms and their clients grapple with new realities around asset management.
“It’s about, how are you leveraging that program into your customer’s new infrastructure?” Berry said.
Consumers and businesses take note
One newer industry initiative connects a number of different processors through mail-in collection.
The Done with IT mail-in program, launched a year ago, provides a collection-by-mail service that ITAD firms can join to garner material. There are currently 24 ITAD firms partnering with the program.
The organization saw a 197% increase in utilization from the first quarter of the year to the second, said Steven Napoli, president and CEO of The Electronics Reuse & Recycling Alliance (TERRA), which administers Done with IT.
“It’s potentially a good opportunity for [ITAD firms] to get equipment, especially in places that are very locked down and have been since the beginning of all this,” Napoli said. He noted that some of the large-scale consumer-facing device collection options, including Best Buy and Staples, suspended service as the pandemic took hold.
Beyond an increase in firms using the service, Done with IT is seeing a shift in the types of clients looking to the mail-in option. Mail-in has typically been more geared toward the consumer side of electronics recovery, offering individuals without convenient collection options a way to recycle their devices.
That could be slowly shifting as companies across many sectors direct employees to work remotely.
“It’s starting to increase a little bit on the business end,” Napoli said.
ERI, which offers its mail-in service to both consumer and commercial sector customers and has run the service for eight years, also sees the occasional case in which businesses will use the box program in lieu of on-site ITAD services, Shegerian said.
Future of collection?
For Ingram Micro, mail-in will likely take on greater importance in the months and years to come, said Berry. There’s no indication of when the business world could return to “normal,” or what that will look like when it happens.
“I do believe the box program is going to be a core component of the future of ITAD,” Berry said. “Because ITAD is going to look completely different than it did at the beginning of this year, last year, 2018, 2017.
“2020 and beyond, it’s going to be about less touch, and how do you control a less-touch-driven environment to ensure you’re managing risk for your customer,” Berry continued.
He noted that some companies have transitioned from 75% of employees in the office and 25% working remotely, to the opposite ratio. That means devices are no longer aggregated in a single place.
“These centralized locations, these big offices where they were collecting assets, they don’t exist right now,” Berry said. “There’s no one in these offices, everyone is still working remotely for the most part. So how do we get that asset return, and manage the COVID component of this as well?”
Of particular note is the fact that data security around company assets can become an even bigger concern when employees are working out of the office.
That is one issue processor CyberCrunch referenced this week when it launched a mail-in collection service.
“Our largest clients asked for help managing their remote IT equipment sitting in employees’ homes,” said CyberCrunch President Serdar Bankaci. “This new program creates a secure, contactless process to dispose of remote company IT equipment in a responsible way.”
Bankaci added that “data security is difficult enough when IT assets sit in company facilities. In a work-from-home environment, the risks increase immensely, and so data security practices need to adapt accordingly.”
As for the consumer side of the business, Napoli of TERRA sees a future where mail-in options exist alongside physical collection events. On-site collection will always have a place, Napoli said, but it can be complemented by the mail-in service.
“Areas that are really underserved, there’s really not many options to do this,” Napoli said, noting that in some areas, local collection events occur just once a year. “One of our strategies going forward is to really engage deserts that don’t have options.”
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