Until recently, customers seeking recycling services for used electronic equipment had very few assurances that electronic scrap would be handled correctly by their chosen recycler. How could clients seeking electronics recycling services know a recycler’s claims of environmental and social responsibility were authentic?
Large corporations sometimes take on the expense of auditing a recycler, and in some instances even the recycler’s downstream vendors. However, this is a time consuming and expensive process that too few customers have the resources to perform.
Five years ago, a US EPA-convened multi-stakeholder group determined that a certification program designed specifically for the electronics recycling industry was needed. Across the industry, there was increasing support for developing a standard that would effectively address the operational and materials management concerns associated with electronics recycling activities, thereby giving customers confidence that their electronic equipment was being responsibly recycled.
In response, this EPA-convened multi-stakeholder group set off to develop a standard that would consider the environmental and social impacts of electronics recycling and establish best practices for the industry. To ensure the standard was designed to meet the needs of all key stakeholders, the workgroup included regulatory agencies, OEMs, recyclers, and refurbishers. The result of the two and a half year, open and collaborative effort was the Responsible Recycling (R2) Standard. A free copy of the Standard can be downloaded from the R2 Solutions website (www.r2solutions.org).
How clients are using R2
Clients seeking ITAD services are increasingly familiar with the advantages R2 certification brings to the service provider selection process. The value of the standard is that it creates a baseline for performance in a number of operational areas. Requiring third-party verification by an ANAB-accredited certification body creates a mechanism for recyclers to demonstrate their facility meets these performance requirements. ITAD service providers that have achieved certification have demonstrated their facilities meet each of the 13 provisions of the R2 Standard, including:
- An Environmental, Health, and Safety Management System (EHSMS) be in place
- Adherence to the “reuse, recover, dispose” hierarchy of material management
- Recyclers and downstream vendors meet all legal requirements
- On-site environmental, health and safety monitoring and action
- Management of Focus Materials (FMs), both on-site and by downstream vendors
- Equipment and component reuse requirements
- Throughput tracking of all material in, and out of the facility
- Data destruction methods
- Requirements for storage of equipment
- Adequate facility security
- Insurance, closure plan and financial instruments
- Packing and transport of equipment and material
- Recordkeeping requirements
In total, the 13 provisions in the R2 Standard address 55 points of operation and performance.
Clients seeking ITAD services can use R2 certification in one of two ways. First, for clients that do not intend to first-hand audit a recycler or ITAD service provider, third-party certification provides a level of confidence that the facility has been audited by a third-party professional and the facility met the best practices laid out in the R2 Standard. Alternatively, for those clients that do intend to perform on-site assessments of potential ITAD service providers, R2 certification can be used as a baseline qualification. Those clients are then only considering a highly-qualified pool of ITAD service providers.
R2 meeting the ITAD client’s needs
A survey conducted by Converge in 2009 suggests there are a number of concerns IT managers consider when selecting an ITAD service provider. IT managers at mid- to large-size companies cite data breach from discarded computers as their number one concern when disposing of IT equipment. Environmental practices, and supporting reuse activities were also top priorities listed in this report. The R2 Standard addresses all of these areas:
Data security: By choosing an R2 certified ITAD vendor, IT managers 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. The Standard also requires that employees involved in data destruction receive appropriate training on a regular basis. 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.
Environmental practices: The R2 Standard strongly addresses the environmental impacts that electronics recycling can have if mismanaged. The standard identifies FMs, or materials that can pose environmental concern, and requires that these materials be managed to ensure environmental and worker safety. Downstream vendors handling Focus Materials must also employ the same key best practices as the R2 certified facility. And the standard 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 adheres to the key best practices of the R2 Standard.
Under R2, clients can feel confident that the export of material for processing is being done safely, legally and ethically. To ensure exported electronic scrap ends up at state-of-the-art facilities, three key criteria need to be met. First, shipments of exported electronic scrap must be sent and received in accordance with the laws of the exporting and importing countries. Illegal shipments all too often end up causing serious harm to health and the environment in the worst of recycling and refurbishing operations.
Second, all receiving facilities must be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that they are employing best technologies and practices. In Asia and other parts of the world, there are a number of state-of-the-art electronics recycling and refurbishing facilities that rival those in the U.S. in terms of technology and materials management.
Third, all equipment must be accurately characterized on the shipping manifest. Too often, e-scrap exports are characterized as “reusable” to avoid the added scrutiny and legal requirements that apply to “waste”. This creates a legal loophole which can allow scrap to be inappropriately sent to a facility that is not capable of safely handling it.
Through these requirements, the stakeholders that developed R2 achieve the goal of protecting vulnerable populations while supporting legal, safe, environmentally-sustainable, economic development in developing countries.
Reuse: Recognizing the importance that reuse has, both environmentally and socially, the R2 Standard establishes a “reuse, recover, dispose” hierarchy. The Standard requires R2 certified recyclers to take all practical steps to direct properly functioning equipment and components for reuse unless a customer directs otherwise. In order to divert equipment for reuse, diagnostic testing must be performed to confirm that key functions of the unit are working properly. The R2 Standard has emerged as the third-party certification standard of choice for the reuse and refurbishing community.
The R2 Standard creates assurances for customers seeking ITAD services that stringent requirements are being followed in data security, environmental management, and reuse practices.
R2 ITAD options abound
Currently, there are 67 certified R2 electronics recycling facilities in North America, a number of which are ITAD service providers. Certified facilities offer a range of services, from traditional recycling and material recovery to remarketing, redeployment and full IT asset management. Many of the early adopters of the R2 Standard, such as Supply-Chain Services, Tech Turn, Intechra, HiTech Assets and LifeSpan Technology Recycling, Regency Technologies, and Round2 are among the national and international leaders in ITAD services. Other R2 certified facilities offering recycling services can be found throughout the U.S. With dozens of facilities currently under contract to soon get certified in the US, Europe, Asia and Mexico, the list ITAD and recycling service providers that have been independently audited and verified to meet the R2 Standard continues to grow rapidly. A list of R2 certified recyclers can be found on the R2 Solutions’ website (www.r2solutions.org).
As the R2 certified service provider options expand, so does the impact it is having on the industry. The R2 Standard is becoming a trusted brand for those seeking IT asset disposition (ITAD) services. 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 increased transparency in the chain of custody of Focus Materials through final disposition, enhanced worker safety in facilities, and improved recordkeeping throughout the chain of custody for Focus Materials. Collectively, the standard is raising the bar for the industry 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 IT end-of-life asset management.
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.