GAHANNA, OHIO — In a non-descript, but very large building in a suburb of Columbus, sits some well-guarded recycled plastics.
It's not that these particular plastics are any more valuable than anyone else's recycled plastics. It's just where they are located, at one of Arrow Electronics Inc.'s electronics processing and recycling facilities.
That's where Arrow takes computers and servers and printers and copiers and the like and finds a way to reuse or recycle all of those goods, plastics included.
Overall, about 8-12 percent of the content of the 50 million or so pounds of electronics that the company recycles each year in the United States is plastic, according to Eric Capps, Arrow's global compliance manager.
Not the majority, by far, but a sizeable enough amount on its own.
Arrow Electronics targets the nation's largest firms for its information technology asset disposition (ITAD) business, taking no-longer-needed equipment and either finding a new home for the electronics or recycling the materials.
Sometimes they even refurbish and redeploy equipment back to the same company.
“We take IT assets from large corporations. We focus mostly on the Fortune 1000 companies. We take their product either at the end of lease, end of life or when they do a refresh [of equipment],” explained B.J. Karam, director of global logistics services for Arrow Electronics who oversees the Columbus-area site.
“Once they are ready to send us their product, we offer secure logistics so that we can transport not only their assets but the data on those assets securely and provide full chain of custody,” he said.
And that's where the security guards at Arrow in Gahanna earn their pay. Going on and off the work floor is a little like heading through airport security check, except you get to leave your shoes on. But the guards do check your socks.
Workers and visitors alike, are screened to make sure they are not bringing in or taking out anything that shouldn't be brought in or taken out.
Security is a priority for the Arrow Electronics, where computers are wiped clean of all of their data — a process via software that can take up to 12 hours for very large hard drives — before they find a new life. Older electronics that no longer have value also are scrubbed of their data before they end up being recycled, Karam said.
Arrow Value Recovery, the company's recycling and reuse division, operates eight facilities in the United States, with the Columbus-area location being the largest. There's 400,000 square feet under roof, with 300,000 square feet currently being used at the site that handles about 40 percent of the company's domestic ITAD work. The company also has locations in Europe and one in Brazil.
About half of everything that comes into Arrow in the United States is reused and about half is recycled.
Electronics targeted for recycling by the company around the country are processed at Arrow locations in St. Paul, Minn., and Dallas, where they are deconstructed before their components are sent off to specific material recyclers, Capps explained. It is part of his job to make sure the recyclables, including plastics, get properly recycled.
Other recyclables that can be easily segregated at individual sites, such as rigid plastics, expanded polystyrene and films, are collected separately from the electronics and shipped off directly to downstream recyclers from various Arrow ITAD sites.
Arrow is selling the value of its secure asset recovery and recycling services to its clients and certainly reaps more profit from handling other electronics components such as circuit boards and hard drives. But plastics are an important, minority part of the business and one that the company takes seriously.
“It's a bulkier product. If you think about an electronic product, it's probably some of the more bulkier product that we handle,” said Tim Kolbus, Arrow's vice president of logistics services, about plastics.
“So the bulking of it, the movement of it within our processing center is higher than others compared to the value that we get on a per pound basis,” he said.
But while plastics require more handling and provider less of a return than other materials, it's a portion of business that the company is committed to providing.
“We do it all. It's why we're in the business. One of our value propositions,” Kolbus said, “… is to ensure that product gets reintroduced into a clean environment and doesn't end up in a landfill. For us, it's part of what we do. It's why we do it.”
Recycling plastics, he said, is “very important for us, regardless of the return on it.”
The strongest market, these days, for Arrow's recycled plastics is China. And with all the bad publicity about electronics being dumped overseas in recent years, the company says it has both internal and external auditing programs as well as external certification in place to ensure the material is handled properly. “Everybody is very concerned about it and everybody is taking it seriously. That's why we feel so strongly about the standards that we have,” Kolbus said.
Arrow Value Recovery is a rebranding of several electronics recycling and recovery businesses that the company has purchased since 2010, including Redemtech and Intechra.
Getting into this side of the business was a logical extension for Englewood, Colo.-based Arrow, which built a name for itself as a provider of electronic components. Arrow also eventually went into the design, development and manufacture of some products.
“This really just completed the lifecycle, that end-of-life, now comes back to a value recovery facility. So it's really cradle-to-grave of electronic design, build and reuse or recycling,” Karam said.