May 2011

Responsible Recycling Practices Standard

Generating Confidence in Electronics Recycling Services – the Responsible Recycling Practices Standard

By: John Lingelbach and Kim Holmes, R2Solutions.org

As consumers we have grown to rely on eco labels and certifications to ensure a level of quality in particular services and products. Certification programs and standard systems are designed to define the best practices in a particular area and hold companies that elect to use these eco labels to those defined practices. For example, many customers rely on the USDA Organic label for food, which is used to identify food that is gown using particular land and biological management practices. Without the National Organic Program, which manages the USDA Organic label, customers would have to rely on self declared information offered by each manufacturer or grower about their products. Without this label, verification of those claims would be quite difficult, and for many consumers impossible. Instead, the USDA Organic label, which is backed by an accreditation and certification program, offers consumers confidence that food labeled as such, is handled in accordance with a set of clearly defined and environmentally favorable practices.

The confusion and uncertainty that would occur in the absence of the USDA Organic label program is analogous to the confusion that used to exist around selecting the right vendor for electronics recycling services. Until recently, municipalities, businesses and residents seeking recycling services for used electronic equipment had very few assurances that electronic scrap would be handled correctly by their chosen recycler. Aside from a recycler’s promise, how would consumers of electronics recycling services know claims of environmental and social responsibility were authentic? Large corporations would sometimes take on the expense of auditing a recycler, and possibly even the recycler’s downstream vendors. However, this is a time consuming and expensive process that too few customers had the resources to perform. A certification program specifically designed for the electronics recycling industry was clearly needed. There was rising industry support to develop a standard that would effectively address the operational and materials management concerns associated with electronics recycling activities, and give customers confidence that their electronic equipment was being responsibly recycled.

In response, US EPA convened a group of stakeholders in 2008 to develop a standard that would establish best practices and consider the environmental and social impacts of electronics recycling. To design a standard that met the needs of all sectors of the industry, a collaborative workgroup including regulatory agencies, OEMs, recyclers, refurbishers and trade organizations was formed. The result of the two and a half year, open and collaborative effort was the Responsible Recycling (R2) Practices Standard. The first recycler became R2 certified in January of 2010 and since that time 56 facilities have become R2 certified and dozens of other facilities are under review.

Why choose an R2 certified recycler?
According to a survey conducted by Converge, IT managers at mid- to large-size companies cite data breach from discarded computers as the number one concern when disposing of IT, or electronic equipment. Environmental practices, ensuring proper e-scrap disposal, and supporting reuse activities were also top priorities listed in this report. The R2 Standard addresses all of these areas of concern, creating confidence that electronic equipment is managed according to the highest industry standards. Every certified R2 recycler has been rigorously audited by an independent third party auditor to 55 areas of operational and environmental performance.

The R2 Standard strongly considers the environmental impacts that electronics recycling can have if not done properly. The standard identifies Focus Materials, or materials that can pose environmental concern, and outlines how these materials should be managed to ensure environmental and worker safety. Downstream vendors handling Focus Materials must also employ the same best practices as the R2 certified facility. The standard also prohibits the export of equipment and components containing Focus Materials unless the transaction is legal under both the export and import countries’ laws and the receiving facility is state-of-the-art. No illegal exporting is tolerated under the R2 Standard.

By choosing an R2 certified recycler, customers can be confident their data is being securely managed. All R2 certified recyclers are required to sanitize, purge, or destroy data on hard drives and other data storage devices. The data destruction processes that each R2 certified recycler uses are reviewed and validated by an independent party. And, R2 recyclers are required to have a security program in place that is appropriate for the equipment they handle and the customers they serve.

Recognizing the importance that reuse has, both environmentally and socially, R2 Practices establishes a “reuse, recover, dispose” hierarchy. R2 certified recyclers are required to perform diagnostic testing to confirm that key functions of the unit are working in order to divert that piece of equipment from the “recycling stream” and to sell it for reuse without meeting additional “downstream” R2 requirements.

The R2 Standard creates important assurances for customers seeking electronics recycling services that stringent requirements are being followed in environmental management, data security, and reuse practices.

Why become R2 certified?
Recyclers that choose to become R2 certified send a clear message to customers that they take the issue of responsible recycling seriously. R2 certification is the right certification program for those recyclers that:

  • Take environmental responsibilities seriously in the U.S. and globally,
  • Can demonstrate accountability for the electronic equipment they process, all the way to final disposition,
  • Make data security is a top priority,
  • Adhere to the highest industry standards and best practices,
  • Ensure worker safety.

The heavy web traffic seen on the “R2 Certified Recyclers” section of the R2 Solutions webpage, which is a directory of R2 Certified facilities, is a strong indicator that R2 certification is becoming a driving criterion for customers looking for electronics recycling services.

R2 Shaping the industry
Now that the R2 Standard has been in operation for a little over a year, the impact that it is having on the industry is evident. R2 Solutions is working hard to educate customers of electronics recycling services about the value of the R2 Standard, which is becoming a trusted brand for those seeking electronics recycling services. And, customers of R2 certified recyclers have a new level of confidence in their service providers.

From a recycler’s standpoint, the R2 standard is improving industry practices. In terms of individual performance, we have seen R2-certified recyclers choose more transparent downstream vendors. And collectively, the standard is raising the bar for the industry as a whole as the expectations of customers rise. Through the continued involvement of key stakeholders, the R2 Standard is positioned to have a positive and lasting impact on this important sector of the recycling industry.

For additional information about the R2 Standard, including finding an R2 certified recycler or to download a free copy of the standard, visit the R2 Solutions website at www.r2solutions.org.

John Lingelbach is Acting Executive Director of R2 Solutions, Lingelbach@r2solutions.org.

Kim Holmes is Principal Consultant of 4R Sustainability, Inc. and contributes to a number of R2 Solutions’ projects, kholmes@4rsustainability.com, or kholmes@r2solutions.org.

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