This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of E-Scrap News. Subscribe today for access to all print content.
In a perfect world, electronics recycling companies would properly organize their material, send it to their downstream processors and then hear nothing but good news.
However, it’s been shown time and again that downstream processors are not always on the up and up.
In a 2016 study conducted by the Basel Action Network, researchers from the watchdog group placed 205 GPS trackers on old printers, LCDs and CRT monitors that were then sent to recyclers.
The study found that 31 percent of the low-value material was shipped to developing nations, where much of it ended up in landfills.
Such findings show that electronics recycling operators need to be vigilant. Their due diligence should involve reliable systems to keep track of their downstream processors and avoid recyclers that are not trustworthy.
On the following pages are 10 tips and techniques to ensure material is handled the right way.
1. Make them apply
One of the best ways to get to know a new downstream vendor is to treat them like anyone else who is looking for a job. And just like a prospective employee, your potential partner should fill out an application so you can get the most basic information on paper.
You should ask for the official name of the company, company address, W-9 tax forms, and any third-party certification forms they have, such as ISO 14001, OHSA 18001 or SA8000.
Having the same third-party certifications is important because it ensures that you and your downstream vendors speak the same recycling language and believe in the same processes.
Getting the basics from the vendor will also allow you to verify the company’s credentials with organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.
2. Look for a site-closure plan
Inevitably, some businesses fail, and your downstream partners are not immune to that reality. However, when someone in our industry closes their doors, they can leave a lot of hazardous materials behind.
These abandoned waste piles can create EPA Superfund sites and other cleanup projects, posing a huge risk to human and environmental safety (and creating costly cleanup bills).
One of the best ways to avoid association with problematic stockpiles is to ask your prospective downstream providers for site-closure plans. A good vendor will always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Ask your partners for a detailed description of how they plan to clean up and monitor the hazardous waste they have to dispose of if their businesses should fail.
Make sure they are planning on doing a “clean closure.” This would involve disposing of all waste and equipment on-site, not simply sending it to a landfill somewhere else.
3. Get a reference (or three)
A vendor’s customer base can tell you a lot, and those customers can help you decide if a vendor is the type of operation you want to work with.
Ask the vendor for three references from current partners. If you get good recommendations from several honest operators, that is a good sign the vendor in question is worth your business.
Also, be sure to ask the references a little bit about their recycling habits and qualifications. If the references seem to run their companies similar to how you run yours, there’s a good bet their perspective on a vendor will be helpful for you.
4. Inquire about insurance
Downstream vendors should have insurance, and it’s a good move to ask them for copies of their policies. Not every vendor will have the insurance that your business needs to avoid liability, and this is important to know before moving them material.
A downstream vendor should have at least general liability and professional liability recycling and handling insurance. However, that bare minimum might not be enough. For instance, businesses that recycle electronics should also have crime and cyber theft coverage.
5. Don’t forget about credit
Checking a vendor’s credit may seem like a no-brainer, but many people skip this process and end up getting burned. Good credit is one of the simplest ways to ensure that a company is in good standing and everyone on their downstream end is getting paid.
You can check a company’s business credit through companies such as Experian or Dun & Bradstreet.
If a vendor has bad business credit, there is a chance they are not paying their downstream vendors and that could hurt your business.
6. Keep chain of custody shipshape
Maintaining constant contact with your downstream contractors is key to ensuring that they are conducting business in an ethical manner. However, the chain of vendors is long and can span many different countries.
The good news is you don’t have to actually speak with everyone. Obtaining a copy of your downstream vendors’ shipping records is a great way to know where your material is currently located and where it is going.
You should demand that vendors write up an email that confirms exactly when they received your shipments. And from there, they should send you a record that proves your materials made it to their intended destination in the exact same way that you dropped them off.
A company that is transparent with their shipping records is a company that you want to do business with.
7. Put it on the calendar
It can be very difficult to keep track of every shipment a downstream vendor makes. This task becomes impossible if you are relying solely on memory.
Creating a calendar of all shipments your vendors are making can simplify keeping your vendors accountable. The calendar should show every downstream vendor you work with and have deadlines set for when they owe you shipping records. These deadlines will help you keep tabs on your downstream companies and let them know that you expect transparency and accountability from the people that work with you.
8. Look for self-reflecting firms
Do your vendors self-audit? A vendor that conducts annual internal assessments is a vendor you want to work with.
An internal audit shows that a vendor is willing to objectively look at their business decisions throughout the year and see areas of success and areas in need of improvement.
If you are an operator that believes every piece of electronic material must be accounted for, then you’ll need vendors who are willing to look behind the curtain and bolster their processes.
9. Engage in industry efforts
The Basel Action Network’s e-Trash Transparency Project, which is continuing the push to use GPS trackers on old devices, is a great way to educate yourself on where recovered electronic material ends up. The initiative’s website is worth checking regularly for updates.
BAN has also gone one step further with its Earth Eye project. Electronics recyclers that subscribe to the program can choose how much of their recycled material they want Earth Eye to track, and they can see results in real time. This is another tool to help downstream partners accountable.
10. Lead the way
There are many bad players in our industry as well as a lot of people who are simply unaware of how to properly dispose of electronic material. However, just because someone is negligent now does not mean you can never work with them in the future.
Taking the time to teach people the proper processes can change the businesses and lives of vendors and create more allies in protecting our planet. In the end, all electronics recycling businesses need excellent partners downstream. Let’s commit to growing the pool of options.
Karin Harris is the owner of e-Green IT Solutions in Phoenix, Ariz. E-Green is an e-Stewards certified electronic disposal company specializing in secure data destruction. The company was recently recognized by the city of Phoenix as a Green Business Leader.