R2 Certified Recyclers – How R2 Recycling offers Peace of Mind, and Why You Should Care

By John Lingelbach, R2 Solutions

Imagine you’re the IT manager for your midsize company. The company has recently replaced all its computers, and it has fallen to you to dispose of the old ones.

No problem, right? You take the computers to a local electronics recycler and get on with the hundreds of other job responsibilities you have.

Then, a couple of weeks later, you get a call from your CEO that chills you to the core. A story aired on the evening news the night before that a hard drive from your company was found in a local dump. Personal information for all of your company’s employees has been exposed.

“How did this happen?” She demands. “You were in charge of recycling the electronics, not dumping them.” And you did recycle them — or so you thought. So what went wrong?

If done right, recycling reclaims materials, encourages economic stimulation and creates jobs, while allowing IT managers to recover value and help lower the cost of IT equipment ownership. Unfortunately, not all electronics recycling is done correctly. In addition to directly harming your company by exposing sensitive data, poorly managed electronics recycling can be disastrous to both the environment and human health and safety.

Of course, there are many responsible electronics recyclers. Until recently, however, it hasn’t been easy for companies to distinguish the responsible from the irresponsible. Companies wanting to ensure they use a responsible recycler had only one option in the past: they could conduct their own audit of a recycler. If they weren’t up to the time and expense required for an audit, they had to simply hope for the best.

The Benefits of R2 Certified Recyclers

Here’s where the story takes a positive turn. Now, recyclers can choose to get certified to the R2 Standard, and IT managers can require their recycling vendors be certified to this standard of good performance before turning over company owned equipment for recycling.

Several years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convened a stakeholder group, which met for three years to develop standards in electronics recycling. The result was the R2 Standard, which was introduced in 2008. The EPA and other stakeholders then created the nonprofit R2 Solutions to house the standard. Recyclers who are audited by an independent third-party Certification Body, and demonstrate they adhere to the strict standards of operation that protect the environment and human health and safety, can be R2 certified. You can download a free copy of the standard from the R2 Solutions website at www.r2solutions.org.

Last year, I wrote in this magazine that there were 67 R2 certified recycling facilities in the United States. I’m pleased to report that there are now over 300 certified R2 facilities worldwide, and that number continues to grow. In fact, we’ve seen 50 percent growth in the last six months. There are now certified facilities in Canada, Mexico, China, India, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the United States. We expect to certify facilities in many other parts of the world in the coming months and years.

Security

R2 certified electronics recyclers are held to high standards for security in order to protect companies’ assets and hard drives. They must also maintain high standards during the recycling process so that the environment and human health are protected — top concerns of IT managers, and top on the list of things that could go wrong with an uncertified recycler.

The R2 Standard requires that certified recyclers have robust systems and practices in place for secure data management and destruction of all types of data storage devices. R2 requires that certified recyclers have both a security program in place for collected customer equipment, as well as processes to sanitize, purge or destroy data on hard drives and other storage devices. This gives IT managers the peace of mind that they will never receive the unpleasant call from their CEO described earlier.

Reuse

Second, R2 recognizes the importance of reuse, both to the environment and to the economy. R2 follows a “reuse, then recover” hierarchy. Electronic equipment with sufficient reuse value should be sanitized, refurbished and directed to reuse. When doing so, however, R2 wants to assure the quality of the equipment to be reused, so diagnostic testing is required and key functions must be working properly before such equipment is deemed, like new equipment, outside the scope of the R2 Standard. Ultimately, maximizing reuse places less strain on the environment from the sourcing (mining) of new raw materials.

Global Reach

Third, it’s critical that any voluntary industry standard has a true global focus. The electronics industry is global and the consumer need for electronics — and the responsible recycling of them — is not limited to developed countries. The development of a responsible electronics recycling industry won’t serve the environment well if it’s limited to North America and Europe. The need for responsible recyclers that have gone through the arduous process of becoming certified, with the requisite safeguards for workers and the environment in place, are just as important in developing countries. That is why R2 has focused on ensuring that electronics recyclers around the globe become certified to the same high standards

Administration

Perhaps as important is the R2 commitment to open and transparent administration and maintenance of the R2 Standard. The R2 Standard was developed through a fully open public process. Key stakeholders participated throughout its multi-year development. This provided the R2 Standard with its core strength — it raises the bar for environmental performance substantially while providing some flexibility regarding the steps recyclers must take to achieve this bar. Further, R2 Solutions has as a core tenet to maintain transparency and multi-stakeholder participation when improving the R2 Standard. Currently, the Technical Advisory Committee is working on an update and improvement of the standard, which is expected to be rolled out in early 2013.

Indeed, the standard will be updated and improved as needed to ensure that it continues to address the needs from which it stems. The standard revision process is being designed to conform to the process requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which requires openness, lack of dominance, balance, notification and comment, consensus, and appeals.

R2 Solutions is proud of what we’ve achieved in the past few years, but the true success of the standard and the certifications lies in the hands of IT asset managers who voice their support for good processes that are sound environmental practices, protect human health and safety, and secure data storage and disposal. This support is felt every time you partner with an R2 certified recycler. Given the benefits of choosing certified recyclers, we hope you’ll agree that requiring R2 certification is the responsible choice.

About the Author

John Lingelbach is the Exec. Director of Sustainable Electronics Recycling International.