EPA unveils certification push
By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling
Top officials from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency today announced a new initiative meant to encourage electronics processing companies to use third-party certifications.
On September 20, 2012, Lisa Feldt, deputy assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response appeared with executives from electronics manufacturers and retailers, including Best Buy, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sprint and Staples at Vintage Tech Recyclers, a certified electronics recycling facility in Romeoville, Illinois to announce EPA's Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge. Dell, Nokia and Sony have also joined the SMM Electronics Challenge.
The EPA's SMM Electronics Challenge seeks to advance the responsible management of used electronics by using rewards and recognition to encourage electronics manufacturers and retailers to voluntarily commit to sending all of their used electronics for reuse and recycling to third-party certified recyclers within three years of joining the program. Participants will be required to establish a baseline of electronics it currently collects and sends to third-party certified companies within 90 days of signing up.
"Already, the U.S. generates almost 2.5 million tons of electronic waste per year — and that number will only grow. Used electronics have materials in them that can be recovered and recycled, reducing the economic costs and environmental impacts of securing and processing new materials for new products," said EPA Administrator Lisa. P. Jackson in a prepared statement in anticipation of the event. "The SMM Electronics Challenge will help us ensure that we are doing all we can to repurpose or safely dispose of the cell phones, computers and other devices we use every day — all while helping to build a robust market for electronics recycling in the U.S."
The new initiative is an extension of a broader policy from the Obama administration announced last summer intended to better handle the mounds of unwanted electronics generated by the federal government and improve how it's managed.
The challenge is designed in a tiered structure to be flexible for participants' business models, organizational sizes and levels of leadership. The tiers include bronze, silver and gold, and participants may join at the level that best suits them. Each tier becomes progressively more comprehensive, with the silver and gold tiers encompassing the requirements of the previous tiers. Participating companies will be required to report data to the EPA.
The EPA will give participants the opportunity to win awards based on the data submitted in the categories of innovations, education and outreach, as well as leadership. Participating companies will be aided by the EPA with online tools and webinars, as well as help form agency representatives.
"We applaud EPA's leadership to encourage even greater, more convenient options for consumers to recycle electronics," said George Sherman, Best Buy senior vice present for services in a prepared statement. "We have seen first-hand that demand for these services continues to grow. We look forward to continuing this work with EAP to expand initiatives that benefit consumers that meet this demand."
Yangkyu Kim, president and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America also issued a statement in support of the new program.
"Samsung has long been committed to sustainability and is proud to be among the first to show our support for the EPA whose initiative aligns perfectly with our commitment to protect the people and the environment through responsible recycling," Kim said.
Aggregated information gathered by the EPA from participants will be used to present an improved nationwide picture of how used electronics are managed in the U.S., covering how collection and recycling is occurring and the amount of used IT assets generated by businesses, institutions and the general public respectively.
The Basel Action Network, an environmental advocacy organization that has been critical of exporting e-scrap to developing countries, responded to the announcement by issuing a statement cautioning that while the new program has good intentions it will likely create "market confusion."
According to the Seattle-based organization, although the program promotes the use of third-party certifications, it creates "a false sense of equivalency" between BAN's e-Stewards certification, which prohibits the export of e-scrap to developing countries, and the competing R2 standard, which does not have the same restriction.
"We worry that companies in the EPA Electronics Challenge will believe that the recycler certifications are the same," said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, in a prepared statement. "But they are not — far from it."
The end result, according to BAN, is that the program will reward companies for doing the right thing and sometimes the wrong thing.
"For political reasons, EPA will not admit that e-Stewards is more robust and protective of the environment," said Puckett. "But in a very real sense, e-Stewards Certification is the true gold level standard."