Episode 226: The Cyber Consequences Of Our Throw Away Culture

In this episode of the podcast (#226) we speak with John Shegerian, the Chairman and CEO of Electronics Recycling International (ERI) about his new book: “The Insecurity of Everything.” John and I talk about the world’s growing electronic waste problem and how foreign actors are believed to be harvesting sensitive data from laptops, phones and other electronics discarded by the U.S. and other nations.

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On Tuesday, Apple introduced the iPhone 13. It one of several device announcements made during a virtual event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California including a revamped iPad, and iPad Mini, as well as a new Apple Watch Series 7.

After the upgrade: tons of e-waste

That’s great news for Apple fans, but bad news for the environment. New devices, after all, mean a wave of upgrades as users jettison perfectly usable hardware for the latest and greatest. That old hardware may find a new owner in the secondary market. But much of it will become a part of the world’s massive river of eWaste along with television sets, video game consoles, home appliances and more. 

John Shegerian is the CEO of ERI.
John Shegerian is the CEO of ERI

Globally, an estimated  59 million tons of used electronics end up in landfills each year. In the last 20 years, electronics waste (e-waste) has become one of the fastest growing waste stream in the world. What’s worse: e-waste is both difficult to recycle and exceptionally harmful to the environment. It accounts for less than 2 percent of the world’s waste stream by volume. But it causes over 70 percent of the waste stream’s harmful and toxic environmental effects, according to US PIRG. 

Sensitive data dragged to the curb

But there’s another, less talked about consequence of our e-waste problem: data leaks and theft. Simply put,  electronic devices like laptops, smart phones, printers and tablets store sensitive data, including personally identifying information. Too often that data is not properly removed prior to the device being recycled. In the wrong hands, that discarded data poses a huge risk to the security of individuals and private- and public sector organizations. 

What’s to be done about it? In this episode of the podcast, we’re joined by someone who is up close and personal with the e-waste problem: John Shegerian is the Chairman and CEO of ERI – Electronic Recycling Inc. one of the U.S.’s largest recyclers of electronics. ERI works with companies like Staples and Tesla. John has written a new book, The Insecurity of Everything which explores how hardware data security is fast becoming one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. 

In this conversation, John and I talk about the growing e-waste problem, the lack of federal leadership on electronics recycling and how foreign nations opposed to the US have taken an interest in the data stored on discarded electronic devices.