We live in an era where we are surrounded by gadgets. Name an electronic device and you can find it around you. From smartphones to laptops, routers to printers, scanners etc. devices seem to have become an inseparable part of our lives. Life seems to be incomplete without them. While they make our lives easier, their disposal is contributing to the growing problem of electronic waste.
Globally, we only recycle 10% of our e-waste, a number that’s as shocking as it is depressing. As for the 90% we don’t recycle, it ends up getting landfilled, incinerated, or illegally traded. E-waste contains a laundry list of chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment, like: mercury, lead, beryllium, brominated flame retardants, and cadmium, i.e. stuff that is as bad as it sounds. When electronics are mishandled during disposal, these chemicals end up in our soil, water, and air.
To make matters worse, electronic waste is sometimes illegally exported to countries that don’t have laws on handling and disposing of it. Once there, it’s dumped. Sometimes, valuable materials are recovered, but often in unsafe working conditions.
While it might feel disheartening about the damage being done to our planet, there are some who are tackling the problem. One of those is Electronic Recycling Association (ERA), a non-profit organization committed to curb the e-waste monster. Having taken this responsibility for the last 16 years, ERA has been known for offering simple, actionable & effective solutions to help individuals and organizations manage their e-waste. “I formed the ERA because I saw a great need for better management of the waste created by electronics,” says Bojan Paduh, Founder & President of ERA.
“We want more people to be involved in the reuse side of the e-waste industry so that we have more available for donation to charities and individuals who can’t afford to purchase new equipment.”
That’s how it always begins, very small
The idea for the Electronic Recycling Association came to Bojan Paduh as the result of an experience he had when he first moved to Canada. His family had emigrated from Croatia in 1996 and didn’t bring many modern conveniences with them. Shortly after they settled, the church group that his family belonged to gave Bojan a computer. While it may seem insignificant to some, this small gift had an immeasurable impact on his life. Armed with this precious piece of technology, he began to learn the art of computer science, giving him access to information at the click of a button and the ability to complete school assignments that really stood out among his peers.
One day on a school trip to a landfill Bojan noticed that a lot of computers were being dumped there. Computers that still had significant useful life in them, a fact he wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for that computer he was given as a young adult. He was surprised that people would just throw away working technology, and so he started collecting those dumped computers and fixing them up. It was a hobby for him, but he quickly discovered that people really wanted and needed these computers that he was fixing. And thus ERA was born.
Trash to Table
With a focus on refurbishing and reusing computers & accessories, ERA supplies donated IT equipment to charitable groups. Team ERA realizes that reusing computers and related accessories before recycling them can completely transform the ways the e-waste created by an organization is managed. By offering industry leading data destruction for all equipment they receive, they have securely repurposed hundreds of tons of equipment.
With Imperial Oil and Shell as their biggest clients, their target market are organizations that replace their IT equipment regularly. As avoiding harm to the environment is its top priority, ERA accepts any IT related devices without any clauses like age, quality or condition of the device.“We are also happy to help the smaller companies that only need a pickup every year or so. Everyone has electronics to get rid of at some point and we have clients in every industry,” says Julia.
Safe disposal of e-waste includes different processes like pickup, maintaining inventory, destruction of data, certification, recycling fees etc. and each has a cost involved. Though other e-waste disposal service companies offer good money for old electronics, they deduct their service costs leaving their clients with a very small amount in hand. On the other hand, with no sorting or boxing required, ERA has a smooth & streamlined pickup service that ensures its clients convenience and a pleasant working experience. By offering the majority of its services at no charge, ERA offers organizations an opportunity to improve their corporate responsibility profile and join hands with ERA in their crusade for saving the environment.
Diamonds in the Crown
ERAs commitment towards environmental protection can be witnessed in the form of recognition and partnership with some of the important organizations in the world.
ERA is the recipient of the prestigious “Emerald Award” for its dedication towards a social cause and its ability to demonstrate extraordinary commitment to the environment.
ERAs partnership with Ruckify and United Way helps towards providing more donations to multiple recipients together. Their partnership also includes taking care of promotion & media, logistics, pickup services and refurbishment.
ERA has paired with Shell Canada from which it receives large donations of electronics. Not only Shell chooses to contribute towards ERA’s donation requests but they also choose their own recipients as well.
Having partnered with “Alberta’s Promise“ a government initiative, ERA is dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth. They plan to do this by inspiring ideas, actions, and investment between business, agencies and community partners.
“Our motto is to reduce electronic waste and the negative impact it has on our environment, and to reuse unwanted computers and related electronic equipment through recovery, refurbishment and computer donation programs,” emphasizes Julia Armstrong, Marketing and Donations Manager, Electronic Recycling Association.
Ramping up Growth
Expansion of operations for non-profit organizations has never been easy. They have to strike a delicate balance between growth and sustainability. Despite facing their share of successes and failures, ERA’s prime strategy has navigated the balance between the two opposing interests quite successfully. For some time they have been expanding their outreach programs and have been opening new branches across other cities.
Getting approved and audited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) turned out to bea major game changer. Being ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 certified has helped ERA not only improve its environmental processes and procedures, but has also allowed bigger organizations to partner up with them without worrying about credibility.
The particular work culture has been an important factor in the growth of the non-profit. At ERA everyone is aware that their position or the title is not what makes them a leader. Rather every team member believes in facing challenges together. Due to a collaborative culture, it is important for CEO Bojan Paduh that the employees feel satisfied at the end of the day, and are given work tasks which are in sync with their skills & interests. “This not only allows everyone to shine in their own unique ways but in turn makes the company more productive and efficient,” adds Julia.
Indeed, a friend in need
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been a painful experience for everyone. With business shutting down in bulk & employees forced to work from home, the need for personal computers has grown considerably. Despite the drastic decrease in the amount of inventory from businesses ERA is working diligently to fulfill requests for personal devices. In order to help individuals struggling due to COVID-19 to study and work from home, ERA has come up with an additional support program (Lending Laptop Program) which includesdonating laptops to people who cannot afford one.
Though the pandemic has proven to be a speed-bump, ERA is trying to get back on track. As a part of its business strategy, ERA, has plans to expand to the east coast and the US. “We want more people to be involved in the reuse side of the e-waste industry so that we have more available for donation to charities and individuals who can’t afford to purchase new equipment,” adds Julia. With a clear vision for itself and a mission to change the world for good, ERA can certainly be an industry leader in the making.