Here's what you need to know before you toss out your old computers. Walter Zerla/Getty Images

It's important for all companies to take certain factors into consideration before they get rid of their excess electronics. I've worked in the technology industry for over 20 years, helping customers across all industries ensure the proper and secure disposal of their equipment. I specifically want Houston businesses to be aware of some of the less-obvious facts when it comes to electronics recycling and disposal — and for them to know that trusted, locally based IT asset disposition (ITAD) services are available.

The world produces 40 million tons of e-waste annually, and only 20 percent of that is being disposed of properly.

Electronic waste and its environmental effects are a serious global issue. When businesses go through technology refreshes, much of their equipment ends up sitting in landfills; this can be avoided, though. Like other widely used materials, such as glass, paper, and plastic, excess electronics and their parts can be recycled, too.

Law firms, health centers, financial institutions, and many other types of businesses aren't necessarily expected to break down electronics and recycle pieces themselves. All businesses, though, are obligated to work with a trusted IT asset disposition partner when disposing of or replacing electronic equipment to ensure that best practices for removal are followed.

Recycling and disposal experience matter when it comes to ensuring compliance with federal and environmental laws. 

Major countries around the globe, including the United States, have implemented strict recycling laws. Especially in recent years, the federal government has placed a heavy emphasis on proper electronics disposal practices. New tech products and their upgraded versions are released constantly, replacing older equipment with the latest and greatest.

For businesses, technology refreshes are often large-scale, requiring a major equipment overhaul. When mass amounts of products are left to contend with, it's easy (and common) to overlook key details. It is important to note that some environmental laws will vary by state and even by city ordinance.

Companies should partner with an ITAD professional that prioritizes reliability and is certified to a recognized, international recycling standard. e-Stewards certification offers a great example of globally responsible recycling practices that operate in accordance with specific laws. The right ITAD partner can help companies protect their overall brand integrity while staying in compliance with recycling laws.

The only way to ensure that sensitive information is safely eliminated is to wipe or shred drives.   

The rise of data breaches in the U.S. — both small and large — is concerning. Breaches often take place because hardware is handled improperly. Technology refreshes are very common, usually occurring about every two to five years for businesses.

Across office spaces, millions of megabytes of data are stored on employees' equipment. All devices, from PCs to desk phones, house potentially sensitive company information. The drives in computers are usually most at risk for compromising data. Fortunately, data can be safely removed by wiping information off the hardware or shredding it to unrestorable size.

Value can be recovered from excess electronics. 

Depending on the equipment and hardware specifications, some electronics can be remarketed as whole products or sold for their individual parts. Excess electronics are often resold at a small percentage of their original purchase price, though. But, when monetary value can be recovered from parts, companies can invest recouped revenues into new equipment.

The secondary market for excess IT equipment is quite large. Partnering with an ITAD professional that has the right network and connections can help customers achieve maximum return on investment for their equipment.

Local, on-site disposal solutions are conveniently available.  

Proper electronics recycling is easy when you partner with a trusted, experienced IT asset disposition professional. Instead of having product shipped to warehouses, companies can elect for disposal solutions to come to them. Shred trucks can wipe and destroy data off of about a thousand hard drives or SSDs per hour.

Serving as an extension of an ITAD professional's warehouse, shred trucks offer the same quality of services, but are fully mobile. On-site data sanitization services, complete with certificates of wiping and destruction, can be included. A company's IT equipment can be securely removed and documented without ever having to leave its premises.

As a facilities manager, IT supervisor, CTO, or CIO, if you don't already have a technology recycling program in place, you should start assessing your needs. If you do have an IT asset disposition program in place, make sure your partner is thoroughly qualified. The five disposal facts I've listed should serve as a guidepost for industry best practices.

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Ed Wooten is Smith's director of ITAD, or IT asset disposition.

Houston-based CompuCycle has acquired a new shredder that can automatically sort and dismantle electronics. Courtesy of CompuCycle

Houston small business introduces state-of-the-art technology for electronics recycling

E-cycling

Currently, there are more than 135 million cell phones, 23 million televisions, and 31 million computers in landfills in the United States that don't have to be.

"Eighty percent of electronics are still landfilled in the United States," says Kelly Hess, CEO of CompuCycle, citing Consumer Take Back Coalition and EPA 2014 data. "We really want to advocate to change that number, because it's not necessary."

CompuCycle — a Houston company that has been around for over 20 years — has taken a big step toward that goal by adding an electronics shredder to its services. The shredder can dismantle 40,000 pounds a day of electronic material down to just about the finest it can get. It's the only of its kind in Houston — and one of only a few in Texas.

"It's a game changer," Kelly says. "When it comes to electronics recycling, if there's anything that can be sexy about it, this is sexy. It's as good as you can get."

As a R2 certified company, CompuCycle works with large corporations — local and worldwide — to safely wipe data from old electronics, refurbish them, and recycle what can't be refurbished. While most of the company's business is this B2B model, Harris County residents can drop off electronics to be disposed of responsibly free of charge.

While CompuCycle has focused on responsible electronics disposal since Kelly's father-in-law, John Hess, founded the company in 1996, certain recent events have increased the need to recycle more efficiently.

"China is no longer accepting scrap, which is where a lot of materials would go after it was dismantled," Kelly says. "That's why we've created this solution to be able to responsibly handle it here in the U.S."

The new Chinese law shifts the responsibility of electronics recycling back to the U.S., resulting in a rising need for more education and legislation surrounding recycling, says Clive Hess, executive vice president at CompuCycle and husband to Kelly.

"Texas has pretty weak electronic recycling laws — they do have some laws, and something is better than nothing," Clive says. "But, in a perfect world they wouldn't allow the landfilling of electronics."

At the end of the day, CompuCycle's new shredder is moving the needle on electronics recycling, but there's much more to be done, especially since recyclers still bear the brunt of the costs associated with recycling.

"We need to educate the manufacturers, the retail outlets, and the recyclers," Clive says. "We need to work together to provide recycling programs for people to take advantage of. There's a lot more work that needs to take place in order for recycling to be more effective."


CompuCycle's new shredder can dismantle 40,000 pounds of electronics materials a day. Courtesy of CompuCycle

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Over $1.4M in prizes awarded at Rice University's student startup competition

RBPC 2021

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

Houston health center working with new study that uses app to track long-term COVID-19 effects

pandemic innovation

Aided by technology, medical sleuths at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are tracking the long-term effects of COVID-19 as part of a national study.

At the heart of the study is an app that allows patients who have shown COVID-19 symptoms and have been tested for COVID-19 to voluntarily share their electronic health records with researchers. The researchers then can monitor long-term symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, depression, and cardiovascular problems.

UTHealth is one of eight U.S. sites for the INSPIRE trial (Innovative Support for Patients with SARS COV-2 Infections Registry). Researchers are recruiting study participants from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. They want to expand recruitment to urgent care clinics in the Houston area.

Aside from accessing patients' data through the Hugo Health platform, UTHealth researchers will ask participants to fill out brief follow-up surveys every three months over the course of 18 months. The study complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the federal law that protects patients' information from being disclosed without their knowledge.

"This is a very novel and important study," Dr. Ryan Huebinger, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UTHealth's McGovern Medical School and co-principal investigator of the study, says in a news release.

In a study like this, researchers typically must see a patient in person or at least reach out to them.

"Using this platform is novel because we don't have to schedule additional appointments or ask questions like 'How long were you hospitalized?' – we can automatically see that in their records and survey submissions," Huebinger says.

Mandy Hill, associate professor in the McGovern Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine and the study's co-principal investigator, says about one-fourth of the people in the study will be local residents who didn't test positive for COVID-19.

"That group will be our control group to be able to compare things like prevalence and risk factors," Huebinger says.

Eligible participants must be at least 18 years old, must have experienced COVID-19 symptoms, and must have been tested for COVID-19 in the past four weeks.

"This is not going to be the last pandemic. The more information we can gather across communities now will give us a leg up when the next pandemic happens," Hill says, "so that we can be more prepared to take steps toward prevention."

Researchers hope to sign up at least 300 study participants in Houston. The entire INSPIRE trial seeks to enroll 4,800 participants nationwide. The study is supposed to end in November 2022.

"There's such great potential for numerous research findings to come out of this study. We could find out if people in Houston are suffering from post-COVID-19 symptoms differently than other parts of the country, whether minorities are more affected by long-hauler symptoms, and if certain interventions work better than others," Hill says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is financing the study. Aside from UTHealth, academic institutions involved in the research are:

  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
  • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago
  • Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
  • University of Washington in Seattle
  • Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, San Francisco