Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Competing, Confusing Electronics Recycling Certification Programs

Mar 9: A release from U.S. EPA regarding its sponsored electronic recycling certification program does not mention what some consider to be a more restrictive and competing international certification program from the Basel Action Network (BAN) [See WIMS 2/11/10]. Both programs are just now getting underway and are certain to cause confusion for the public, recyclers, and manufacturers.
    U.S. EPA's release indicates that through "a brand new electronics recycling certification program," the Agency "is taking steps to ensure that electronics recyclers adhere to highly protective standards for workers and the environment in processing pre-owned electronics. This new certification process also means that recycled materials will not be shipped overseas without the consent of the designated country."

    According to EPA only "three companies nationwide have received this new designation – called Responsible Recycling [R2] Practices Certification. The first, and only certified recycler in the mid-Atlantic region is E-structors, Inc. of Elkridge, Md." TechTurn of Austin, Texas, and Waste Management of Minnesota were also certified as electronic recycling firms.

    EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said, "This new e-cycling certification program will take the guesswork out of choosing a responsible recycler. Recycling is an important tool in our arsenal and we need to make sure it's done correctly to prevent environmental harm and ensure the safe re-use of materials. We strongly encourage other electronic recyclers to obtain the certification to ensure that public health and the environment receive the highest protection available."

    In its release EPA indicates that, "The protocols required of certified recyclers help to reduce energy and natural resource consumption, greenhouse gases and hazardous waste. Recyclers are not permitted to burn or landfill certain materials. If electronics are going to be sold for reuse, the recycler must show that all personal data has been cleared or destroyed, that the equipment has been tested and is in working condition, and that the equipment is packaged properly. A recycler must exercise due diligence to ensure appropriate management of the materials throughout the recycling chain, whether domestic or international."

    EPA says that "To apply for certification, electronics recyclers should contact either SGS or Perry Johnson Registrars to receive certification, provided they meet the rigorous certification standards. Both SGS and Perry Johnson Registrars are leading inspection, verification, testing and certification companies. As accredited certifying bodies for certification, SGS and Perry Johnson Registrars are required to list companies they have certified on their respective websites."
    However, the EPA release fails to mention or acknowledge the competing new e-Stewards Certification and Standard from the Basel Action Network (BAN) -- a certification program for electronics recycling created jointly by the environmental community and business leaders. In February, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) announced its endorsement of the e-Stewards program which it called "the first-ever certification program for electronics recycling." NRDC Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz said, "This initiative is sorely needed. Many e-waste recyclers claim to be green, but in reality they rely on unsafe and ecologically damaging methods like dumping millions of tons of toxic waste each year in China, India and Africa. E-Stewards provide businesses and consumers with a first-of-a-kind seal to identify the truly responsible recyclers."
    When it announced its support for the e-Stewards program, NRDC pointed out that, "In 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report roundly criticizing the US EPA for not doing more to promulgate and enforce rules to control the e-waste trade. Unfortunately, to date little has changed and a market-based solution is seen as more necessary than ever."
    The e-Steward Certification is a fully accredited certification that relies on independent, third-party auditors to verify safe and ethical e-waste disposal. It is awarded to companies that recycle electronics without using practices that far too many in U.S. electronics recycling industry rely upon -- the use of municipal landfills and incinerators, the export to developing countries, or U.S. prison labor for disposing of toxic old electronics. While the EPA sponsored program lists only three certified recyclers, the eSteward program indicates that there are about 50 North American recyclers that are considered "Pledged e-Stewards" which have been vetted by BAN and are licensed and committed to becoming certified in the next 18 months. These companies include some of the largest electronics recyclers in North America.
    A February 17, 2010, editorial in Green Computing, critical of the EPA sponsored R2 program says, "R2 lacks the support of the environmental community and some of the most prominent electronics recyclers in the United States. In fact, a number of recyclers now pursuing e-Stewards Certification were once participants in the R2 development process and walked away when it became clear that the manufacturers' special interests would prevail over truly responsible recycling practices." An article in Plastics News describing differences between the two competing programs quotes Barb Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, who said her organization left the R2 discussions along with BAN and decided to help develop the e-Stewards standard. She said, "It was only too clear they were headed for a low bar."
    Access the release from EPA (click here). Access the Perry Johnson Registrars (click here).  Access SGS (click here). Access more information on EPA's Responsible Recycling program (click here).  Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access the complete list of Pledged e-Stewards (click here). Access the e-Stewards website for complete information on certification and related information (click here). Access the BAN website for more information (click here). Access the Green Computing editorial (click here). Access the Plastics News article (click here).