I recently wrote an article for Greenbiz.com titled The 3 rules of recycling electronics waste. The level of response I received and the questions it generated reinforced the notion that there’s a hunger for information on this issue. That’s the good news. The bad news is there continues to be considerable confusion on what to do and why things need to change.
If I were to write a FAQ for the article, the first, middle, and last question would be something along the lines of: “I’ve used company X for years to handle my e-waste. They pay me to take this stuff off of my hands. They’re obviously making money, so things must be ok, right?”
Well, no, not necessarily. The unfortunate reality is there are many perfectly legal and profitable ways to dispose of your IT assets and electronics, in ways that would turn your stomach. And, unless you ask the right questions, you’ll never know, and you could be incurring risks that you’re not even aware of.
Unless you’re working with recyclers that, at minimum, have either R2 or e-Stewards certifications, here’s what happens all too often: Company X pays you to take your electronics. Company X refurbishes and resells what it can, leaving a pile of stuff that doesn’t meet what’s known as the “tech-cut line.” This equipment generally has no value as re-usable products and will either be disassembled for its commodities or Frankensteined together to make new products. Company X sells this pile, usually by the pallet, to the highest bidder. So far, so good, right? Nope!
Company X’s buyer can pay more than others will because they don’t have to meet the third party certification standards and will recycle it in the cheapest way it possibly can. This usually means it’s heading overseas to places where regulations, if they exist, are rarely enforced, and bad things will happen to people and the environment. Company X is able to pay you what it does because it guarantees itself higher margins by selling its e-scrap by the pallet to whomever will pay them the most. It all works great until you consider the social, environmental, and reputational problems it can create. For a good summary of the problems, check out this recent story in The Guardian.
Given these facts, anyone involved in making decisions on IT asset disposition needs to ask themselves two questions:
1) Even if what we’re doing is perfectly legal, is it ethical for our company to dispose of our assets without assurances that all of it is being handled in the right way in every phase of the recycling process?
2) Along with our ethical obligations to act responsibly, are we putting our company’s reputation and data at risk by not knowing where it’s all going?
Do yourself a favor – when disposing of IT assets and electronics, only work with recyclers that, at minimum, are either R2 or e-Stewards certified and are in good standing with regulatory agencies. Doing so will mean you won’t have to answer these two questions in a way that will create hardship for you and others in your community and across the globe.
A note from Environmental Initiative: We’re happy to welcome Leo Raudys, a long-time partner of our organization, to the Initiative today as a guest blogger. Leo is the founder and CEO of Riduvit.com, an online B2B marketplace for responsible e-waste recycling. He recently served as the head of Environmental Sustainability at Best Buy, where he led the company’s e-waste recycling, carbon footprint reduction, and environmental compliance efforts. Prior to Best Buy, Leo was the Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.