The success of SXSW’s March event each year has brought a year-round calendar of mind-expanding events like the 2nd annual SXSW Eco conference a few weeks ago. SXSW Eco brings participants together to focus on areas of Sustainability. The popular SXSW format, panel discussions and meetings over the three days, allowed experts to share their ideas, successes and challenges with audience participants. I was able to attend a variety of sessions including one important to both Schipul and our clients who use technology to support their business or non-profit.
The Good, Green & Shocking Truths
Panel Summary: Many factors such as planned obsolescence, consumer trends, and updated technology contribute to e-waste becoming one of the largest societal waste segments. Exactly how recyclable are our electronics, and what are the most responsible methods of disposal?
Maia Corbitt – Executive Director at State Of Texas Alliance For Recycling
The panelists discussed the history of electronics recycling in Texas and the ways their organizations, alongside our state’s legislature, have gradually increased the ease of recycling for businesses. The panel shared the different local electronics recycling programs and explained which programs were legitimately using state approved certifications and processes so that Houston business owners could confidently select a certified recycling center.
History of Electronics Recycling in Houston
15 years ago in Texas, most waste was being shipped overseas, and low grade metals were one of the main waste products. Within the last ten years, we’ve seen this change as more businesses are seeing the value of sustainability programs. Granted, some of this was instigated by policy change. For example, Texas passed the 2008 Computer Take Back Law making computer manufacturers responsible for providing recycling to residents and small businesses.
In 2011, there was only one certified center in Houston and now there are 5 certified centers indicating a move towards easier and more responsible waste management. The increase in facilities comes from businesses who provide recycling services moving towards end of life asset management for businesses, including refurbishing and re-use as much as possible, and encouraging recycling when re-use is not possible. Combined with policy changes, taking out the hazardous materials and doing the right thing has become a profitable business focus. Recyclers also recover more value when possible for the business or consumer than they did in the past.
E-Waste Sustainability in Houston Today
Yesterday’s technology included much more solid metals waste and was larger (think old Desktops). Today’s recycling stream allows removal of metals and proper disposal. Current electronics are smaller and more efficient in their production. This already eliminates some of the bulk of recycling. Both of these are results of policy changes bringing a change in practices and new business opportunities.
Clive Hess, President of CompuCycle – Houston’s first R2 recycling center, brings success stories that share how CompuCycle has expanded their services to include data management and data sanitization, and provide better opportunities for Houston businesses to incorporate sustainability programs. At CompuCycle, many recyclers now securely erase, sanitize and provide warranties on products they resell. No products are sold as-is, but only with a warranty and if it can’t be sold with a warranty, then it is recycled.
CompuCycle also participates in the unique recycling challenge called the WhatIf? campaign where you can donate your eWaste and they will hire and train individuals to recycle the components. This creates jobs and training for a local non-profit organization. The plan is to continue beyond the campaign as a sustainable endeavor, but they ‘need your junk’ to be successful.
Seek Out R2 Certified Recyclers
Most companies are not quite educated yet on R2 certification and the panel shed some light on how to evaluate and find the right certification options for your business. There’s still a long way to go for the recycling industry to be a recognized standards bearer and the EPA encourages companies to find out if the recycler you’re considering is certified by an accredited, independent certification auditor such as the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board.
The panelists agreed that Education will become key for Chief Sustainability Officers in companies and for your Chief recycler in your home. The people who fill these roles will want to seek updates and stay informed with both the changes within the recycling services corporate world as well as with Federal and State policy changes. Some rrecycling businesses are only registered and will include this as part of their marketing materials, but doesn’t mean they are certified for recycling responsibly.
Our future should include policies that put pressure on electronic manufacturers to build upgradeable devices and longer life cycle products to reduce waste. But, this will require individuals to let their lawmakers know how to write these policies. Lawmakers listen to their constituency and particularly parents.
Want to Help Improve E-Waste?
Manufacturer’s need collection goals and the public needs easy locations to drop-off.
- Require retailers to provide information about recycling to consumers.
- Require state agencies to recycle assets via certified vendors.
- Recommendations that state computer Take Back laws include ALL electronics including TV’s and other waste.
- Find local R2 Certified Recycling facilities in your area.
Concerned about the future of materials in your landfills near your children? Let your State Representative know your concerns. The EPA’s website also has a list of Recycling Resources where you can go to stay up to date on changes in policies and find tools to help individuals and businesses develop and implement sustainability programs at home and in your office.
Silver Lining for Urban Mining – Urban mining and rare earth metals can be found locally instead of offshoring with other countries. Opportunities exist for job creation and has even been part of the lawmakers focus in Colorado for underserved markets. A de-manufacturing site provides jobs for disabled or underserved markets, and a refurbishing site can provide high-tech jobs for engineers. Recycling E-waste is a reverse supply chain position taking one part and producing many parts from the whole. The recycling industry is a consumer driven market. Imagine what happens if everyone started sending all electronics to recycling? It would be an influx of materials. A typical middle-income household has four or more devices per person in their home. Game consoles, cell phones, old iPods, CRT screens, printer, etc.
Business is good for current recycling facilities. What happens when there is no longer a market for glass or other low grade materials? There are electronic parts that have value such as copper, gold and metals, but it is getting harder to handle materials such as glass, lead and plastic. Panelists were quick to suggest as invention increases, there is opportunity with the challenges. Glass is now used in aggregates for road construction to help the roads last longer with addition of silica to increase life span. Reground ABS plastics lower the cost of many manufactured items. There will be a greater need to find opportunities like these for our increased e-waste.
Take Action Recycling your Electronics
Find a certified recycler near you, and find your representative. Have eWaste? Let us know and we can help you find the means to recycle responsibly!