What you should be looking for in R2 certified electronics recycling companies (to avoid liability risks, health concerns for staff, and environmental problems)
What is R2 and why is it important?
There are two major certifications that are outlined by the EPA regarding electronics recycling: the e-Stewards®Standard for Responsible Recycling (e-Stewards®) and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI®) Responsible Recycling (R2) Standards for Electronics Reuse and Recycling.
What R2 allows for companies is the ability to verify via third-party auditors that the policies, processes, staffing, storage, and transit (read that as the entire process of handling your electronics) are:
- encouraging best management practices of staff and devices,
- maximizing reuse and recycling of devices (refurbishment),
- minimizing negative exposure to human health or the environment (hazardous materials),
- ensuring safe management of materials by downstream handlers (data security and environmental),
- and requiring the destruction of all data on used electronics
What is R2v3?
R2v3 is the designation for the latest iteration of R2, version 3.0.
Version 3 came as a result of industry findings, reports from users, and the general public. This would include data privacy and environmental regulation, data breaches, new environmental protection evidence, etc. The latest version includes clarified requirements, an increased emphasis on reusing devices to place back into the circular economy, and improvements to the management of the flow of material through downstream vendors, as well as a heavy emphasis on environmental health and safety requirements and data security.
R2v3 also allows for Core Requirements, which must be satisfied for the certification, and Specialty Process Requirements that only apply to facilities that are performing certain tasks. These tasks include shredding, data erasure, and handling electronics not found in the retail consumer space (medical equipment, etc.).
R2 also employs a network of interconnected partners that form what they call the Downstream Recycling Chain. Each facility in this recycling chain is called a downstream vendor (DSV). What this means for the certification is that although the third party is certifying and verifying the work, there is social pressure to uphold the standards and look out for one another in this network because a company doesn't want any bad reports to come back.
Brokering also is more transparent under the 3.0 revision as it's oftentimes a broker is involved in the process of used electronics.
Why Should I Use R2v3 Recycling Companies for my e-Waste?
Four Reasons to Use an R2v3 Certified Company
Reason #1: Environmental and Human Health Effects
For starters, you are reducing the environmental and human health impacts of improper recycling. Did you know that e-waste only represents 2% of the United States of America's trash in landfills? The problem is that e-waste equals 70% of the landfill's overall toxic waste. This means that out there are items like plasma televisions, monitors with cathode ray tubes, and more that are negatively impacting the environment.
With R2v3, any downstream vendor will need to demonstrate that they are safely processing this material so that it does not wind up in a landfill. They aren't going to be exposed to harsh chemicals or end up doing the stripping of components manually.
Reason #2: Reuse of Materials
Secondly, R2v3 recycling helps increase access to quality reusable and refurbished equipment. In 2019, The US created 6.92 million tons of e-waste, (roughly 46 pounds per person). It recycled only 15% of that material.
Instead, these devices could be placed back into the economy as they can be resold or donated to those who need them.
Reason #3: Energy Consumption, Mining, Limited Resources
Thirdly, the reduction of energy used to create electronics is a key reason to recycle, along with the other environmental impacts associated with mining and processing raw materials.
Researchers have estimated that it takes 1 gigajoule to create a single smartphone. That's roughly 73 times the electricity used to charge the phone for an entire year. It also consists of 62 different types of metals and 34 kg (nearly 75 lbs) of ore needs to be mined to produce that single smartphone.
Recycling also converses our limited natural resources. Roughly 5% of the gold market is used in electronic devices. That's over 290 metric tons annually.
And, sadly, only 15% of this is ever recovered. This is why urban mining has become so popular as there is literal gold in, to paraphrase a quote from the American Gold rush, "them thar landfills".
Reason #4: Independence as a Certification
The key reason to use an R2v3 certified recycler is that is not dependent on NIST. It has in-house standards for data sanitization, especially in the event that you require a company to have Specialty Process Requirements.
And several companies do not possess a certification, so they will process electronics without performing due diligence. This means that there are liability risks, health concerns for staff, and environmental problems while the companies carry out their recycling duties.
For a more overarching picture of how R2v3 recycling companies handle eWaste and the certifications companies should have, here is the founder of Greentec:
David Mills: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm Dave Mills and I'm here with Tony Perrotta. Tony is the founder and the owner of Greentec, which is a technology recycling company. Tony, you've been around for more than 25 years, haven't you?
Tony Perrotta: That's correct. We're actually on our way to our 28th year this year.
David Mills: That's amazing. I was reading an article recently and I was just astounded that we are generating as a society about 50 million tons of what they call e-waste. And so can you tell us exactly what would be concluded from this idea of e-waste?
Tony Perrotta: E-waste really encompasses all electronic waste, right? From your endpoint devices, like your mobile phone that you're using or your laptop computer. Could be your desktop computer, could be your tv, for example, or your cable box. That's the devices we use. There's also data center equipment where a lot of this media and content that you're getting from is fed to you from the cloud.
That comes from massive data centers. And in there you have like servers and switches and routers and all sorts of electronic devices that [00:01:00] make up what we call e-waste.
David Mills: So that would also include like the connection, the cables the discs, anything that's related to this, all the peripheral stuff, and how it's all connected. Is that also e-waste? So in what I read about the mice that we use; I read that about 40% of this is being generated, basically by computer use and smartphones.
The things we use mostly in our business life rather than just things that are consumer-oriented. And so when this stuff gets disposed of I guess you guys would take it but does some of this go into a landfill? And is there a risk of getting this stuff into a landfill?
Tony Perrotta: We wanna make sure it doesn't go to a landfill. But we, like everybody else, all love technology. It's not like we're gonna stop using technology. So I think we're gonna continue to use a lot of technology. The important thing is how we manage this technology at end of life.
What we do with the e-waste when it comes into our facility is we always qualify and see if there's any reuse value to the equipment. [00:02:00] Of course, if the customer allows us to do that, often enough there isn't [any value], let's say it is waste, for example, it's end-of-life. There's no reuse in that case.
The first thing we do is identify if the items have any hazards, right? We would definitely look at, for example, an iPhone. If an iPhone was end of life or any type of phone for that matter we would disassemble that phone, remove the lithium-ion batteries because they're the most hazardous component to that phone, and then we would process that phone, and shred it and separate, the circuit boards, the aluminum, the copper, and the plastics for recycling. So that's just an example.
David Mills: Yeah. Complicated process, right? Of all the things that have to happen there. So I guess what I'm wondering is if this stuff goes in the landfill, that's dangerous, right? Cause it's toxic and all. And I understand then that there have been some real efforts to try and certify the way this stuff is handled.
So I can't like, call junk junker RS and have them come up with their dump truck and just [00:03:00] take all my stuff and just trust that it's gonna go where it's supposed to go. So there are some certifications that people have to handle all this, especially if it's toxic. And one of those is called R2.
So can you tell us, Why is it important that we would look at an organization like yours that has some certifications, and should we expect you to have R2? And what does that mean to me as a person who's got some e-waste to get rid of?
Tony Perrotta: Yeah. So two things there.
One is, you talked about landfilling, right? There's no reason why any of this material should end up in a landfill. Cause really we do have the systems and the technology in place today to recover it and bring it through a circular economy where we're able to reuse or recycle a lot of the components and parts that are in these devices. So really landfill is like a big no-no for us. And then you brought up certifications. [Two,] certifications are important to have, and the one thing you gotta remember about certifications is that not all certifications are equal. For [00:04:00] example, you brought up the R2V3, R2v3 is the latest, if you want the 3.0 version of R2.
And what R2 does is they they certify electronics recyclers, electronics refurbishers based on their operation, based on what they're doing with the material. So it’s important to look at the scope of certifications.
For example, are you certified to sort and test and refurbish devices?
Or are you certified to do the end-of-life processing for those devices and recycle those devices?
We want to look for an organization that’s able to protect you. You mentioned using anybody to move your junk or take your e-waste to the dump kind of thing.
The reality is that there are not just environmental hazards to e-waste, there's also an information security risk. A lot of these devices have information; they store data, important personal data. You really want to make sure from a legal perspective and from a regulatory perspective, [00:05:00] that information is secure.
So handing it over to just anybody is pretty risky, both from an environmental and from an information security perspective.
David Mills: Greentec, you have this R2v3 certification. We talked in a previous interview about NAID, which is an information destruction certification that you told me about, but you've also got some other certifications. And these are the more classic ones we're familiar with, which is ISO certifications. So tell us about if R2v3 is about health and safety and the environment, how does ISO fit into this?
Tony Perrotta: Yeah, good question. ISO has been around forever, right? A lot of people know the International Standards Organization. The reality is that to get R2v3, you have to have at a bare minimum, ISO 14,001, which is the environmental management system. This means your organization has a system, a management system to manage all environmental aspects of your operations.
The [00:06:00] other thing you need to have is the second piece to this: you have to have the health and safety certification. And it used to be known as, and I think it's still known today as OSHA 18,001. So you need to have those two certifications in order to even apply or become R2v3. But even ISO has moved now.
They have a certification called ISO 4,501, and 4,501 encompasses both the health and safety and the environmental. From a health and safety perspective, you have to think about your employees and their health and safety when they're processing these devices, and what are they being exposed to.
So you want to make sure that you're operating in a very safe and compliant way.
David Mills: I guess that applies only to your employees, but if I have e-waste being stored in my own facility, especially if I have a larger amount of it, there are probably health and safety concerns I probably should have. And getting some technicians from your organization to help me with that was, it'd be a smart way to make [00:07:00] sure I'm not exposing my own staff to any kind of risks or hazards as well.
Tony Perrotta: Correct. You may or may not have a health and safety management system, but at the bare minimum, there's regulation out there and legislation that basically makes you accountable as an employer for making sure that you're providing a safe and healthy work environment for your employees. So if have IT people working for example for you, and they're running your IT systems on a day-to-day basis, and all of a sudden you're going through a refresh. Where you're bringing in new technology, getting rid of old technology and all this stuff starts to pile up in a room somewhere then it's like weird to ask your IT people to go in and pack this stuff for you, like it's pretty bulky to move it out.
They weren't hired to be packers and movers. They were really hired to be IT people. So you gotta keep that in mind. Oh. Or the other example I like to use is we want to destroy these hard drives, so now we have IT people or [00:08:00] office people using hammers and screws and drills to try to destroy these hard drives.
It just makes no sense. They weren't hired to do things like that. So I think the industry's evolved a long way from where we've come, back in the eighties or nineties. And today there's, there are professional service providers like Greentec for example, that have the certifications that can do this work for you in a safe, secure way.
David Mills: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. What it really sounds like is there's a whole bunch of layers of certification that allow me to feel confident that the person that's helping me with my e-waste is really qualified to do that, and that when it leaves, my facility's gonna be treated safely. Is that fair to say?
Is that what I should be looking for when I look at a vendor who's gonna provide [services]?
Tony Perrotta: Yeah, for sure. But the important thing is knowing that who you're working with is accredited and has a very high level of certifications. We've talked about R2v3. R2v3 is probably one of the most important [00:09:00] certifications to have.
And the electronics recycling industry…so anybody handling this material end of life, recycling it or refurbishing it, even handling it, if you're handling IT assets, where it's not e-waste, it's just coming out of use, but it still has reuse value. In that case, I would say, one of the more important certifications to have is the NAID certification (the National Association for Information Destruction) because you're dealing with assets. And you wanna make sure that these assets are securely wiped, all the data's removed from these assets, and that you're able to provide like a lifecycle analysis on the condition of those devices.
I like to use the iPhone or a mobile phone example, right? What's the battery life of that iPhone? or what's the battery life of that phone? Nobody knows unless you run some very sophisticated software. That goes and does the diagnostics and says, “Okay, you got 80% battery life, or you got a hundred percent battery life, or you may have 20% battery life.”
I just [00:10:00] use the battery as one example, but there's really a lot more to it. There are pixels on the screen and there's the memory. How well is the memory working? How well is storage working on a device? On a mobile phone, you have wifi…is wifi working very well?
There's a microphone, there's a speaker. So there are a lot of functions there that you need to test for and assess whether it's a great type of device, which means it's fully functional, it's in great condition, it's flawless, or a B device.
And the good thing is that under the R2V3 certification, they have classifications both for the visual condition of the device and the functional conditions. So they use specific codes to diagnose that device, to classify that device, and to evaluate the device.
David Mills: And as you said earlier, this is about the circular economy and not allowing technology that still has a useful life, even if it's gonna be in someone else's hands, just to go into, up into whatever kind of grinder you guys use to [00:11:00] take this stuff apart (It would be fun sometime to get a look at how you disassemble this stuff. We should do that on a video sometime.) But I guess it comes back to my responsibility as a business leader or organizational leader, plus my commitment to being part of a healthy environment and not allowing things just to be disposed of in a way that could be dangerous or wasteful.
So I think I really appreciate you sharing, Tony, helping us understand how these certifications work, and why it's important that people have them. And so if we were to layer those together if I were to ask your company, can you share your certifications with me? Is that something you normally do?
Tony Perrotta: Absolutely. You would want a copy of our certifications because right in the certifications it tells you what we're certified for. So you can look at the scope of certification, and if it matches the type of service that you're looking for then you've done the right thing. You've got the right organization.
The important thing to remember about certifications is that it's all about transparency. It's one thing to say that you [00:12:00] do this and you're gonna do this and you're great...but it's another thing to back it up with a certification because, in order to be certified, there are auditors that actually come on site.
In our case, they're on-site sometimes for a week or two weeks, going through all of our policies, all of our processes, ensuring that the employees are following the processes that we've put in place. Looking at all of our downstreams, where's this material going? Are we meeting the same standards and requirements?
How are we handling hazardous materials, for example, like batteries that I mentioned earlier. That's all part of the scope of being certified.
David Mills: And the best way to know that is just to actually ask for a copy of those certificates and look at them. And if you have questions you should be asking about it. Great. Thanks, Tony. Thanks for sharing this with us. It's really fascinating and it helps me to know how I should behave as a good leader in making sure that I am doing the right thing.
Tony Perrotta: Thanks, Dave.