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October 4, 2012

Update: Companies Step Up

 

By Jeremy Carroll

Romeoville, Ill. — It’s simply a perfect fit.

Consumers are demanding their used electronics be recycled responsibility, and Best Buy Co. Inc. is responding, said Laura Bishop, the company’s vice president of government relations.

“Consumers want responsible solutions when they bring their products to Best Buy for recycling; that’s why we responded,” she said.

Best Buy was one of 10 companies to sign on to the Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge run by the U.S. EPA. The program asks the companies, both manufacturers of electronics and retailers that sell electronics, to only use certified recyclers when recycling the material.

The program also asks the companies to be open about the amount and type of materials they are recycling. There are three rankings, bronze, silver and gold, in the challenge.

Joining Best Buy were LG Electronics, Panasonic Corp., Samsung Electronics, Sharp Electronics Corp., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Dell Inc., Sony Corp. of America and Nokia. The challenge was kicked off at Vintage Tech Recyclers in Romeoville, Ill., 30 miles southwest of Chicago.

“I applaud the industry that is being represented here,” said Lisa Feldt, EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “I think our role is one of facilitator to bring these companies together. We encourage all of the industry to sign on to the challenge.”

She said since the launch of the National Strategy on Electronic Stewardship in the summer of 2011, the number of electronics recyclers that are certified to either Responsible Recycling (R2) or e-Stewards has surged.

“As of September there are over 300 facilities [certified],” she said. “About 10% have dual certification. This represents a doubling of the number of certified facilities since September of 2011.”

As part of the National Strategy on Electronic Stewardship, all e-waste from the federal government must be sent to a certified recycler. The government is the single largest producer of e-waste in the country.

“The cornerstone is to use certified recyclers,” Feldt said about the challenge. “[The certifications] are a wonderful nexus between environmental protection and job creation in this country.”

She said the growth in certified recyclers is likely a combination of simple market and consumer demands.

“When you talk to businesses, they are being educated on certifications and that helps them to know what to do,” said Karrie Gibson, president of Vintage Tech Recyclers, which holds dual certifications. “Corporations like Disney and ESPN, they chose us because we were certified. They know they can put their trust in us because of the certification.”

Pete Fannon, vice president for corporate and government affairs for Panasonic, said anything that grows the infrastructure for electronics recycling is valuable to all of the electronics companies.

“It makes things more efficient, but more importantly, for consumers, it makes things more convenient,” he said. “We know that if it isn’t convenient, it isn’t going to happen.”

In addition to programs being sustainable from an environmental perspective, they need to be sustainable from an economic one as well, he said.

“That is why this program is a boon to all of us, and we’re glad to participate,” Fannon said.

The certifications are important because it makes sure the companies are just not talking about responsibility, but actually acting on it, said Ralph Reid, vice president of corporate responsibility for Sprint Nextel.

“To say you are responsible is good,” he said. “But [the certification] means you have to work with all of your vendors and supplies to make certain they are doing the right thing.”

The Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, which helped develop the R2 standard, praised the initiative.

 

“We commend the EPA for creating this challenge and the forward-thinking companies participating in the initiative,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, in a statement. “We are thrilled that EPA continues to support the R2 Standard as one of the premier gold standards in the industry.”

The Basel Action Network, which developed the e-Stewards standard, was critical of the announcement, saying it does not distinguish between the two standards even though e-Stewards demands more from its recyclers.

“We worry that companies in the EPA Electronics Challenge will believe that the recycler certifications are the same,” said Jim Puckett, BAN’s executive director, in a statement. “But they are not – far from it.”

Feldt responded to the criticism, saying the EPA has supported both certifications.

“And we have recognized that both have, from an environmental prospective, end objectives that are environmentally sound,” she said.