One of the biggest issues with electronics waste is the proper disposal of potentially toxic materials. Countless exposés can be found online that reveal the horrors of e-waste dumping abroad. See below for a clip from a recent 60 Minutes story on the illegal practices from some e-waste recyclers that claim to properly recycle old technology.
A former co-worker, Dave Candelario, has started Spectrum Ecycle, a recycling company in St. Louis, MO that is dedicated to breaking down old monitors, computers, and devices by hand to extract viable components. The company’s mission “is based on the belief that forward-thinking businesses, organizations, and individuals see the value in taking a proactive and environmentally-responsible approach to information technology asset disposition and electronics recycling. We seek to partner with our customers to help them achieve their electronics recycling goals in ways that are specific to their needs.”
Candelario estimates that his company recycles 99% of the material that enters their purview. He said that the only item that cannot be recycled is the composite wood found on old television sets. The business charges a small fee to customers and then sells components to manufacturers. The precious metals that are contained in many of the computers they recycle are at multi-year highs (like gold, which is nearing $1500 per ounce). Candelario points out that these high prices cause unscrupulous business practices by some in the industry. In order to delineate the reputable ecycle companies from those that do not properly care for the waste, the Environmental Protection Agency created the R2 (Responsible Recycling) certification, “a set of guidelines for accredited certification programs to assess electronics recyclers’ environmental, worker health and safety, and security practices.” Spectrum Ecycle will seek their R2 certification within a year. In addition, Candelario mentioned e-stewards, whose certification, is becoming “the leading global program designed to enable individuals and organizations who dispose of their old electronic equipment to easily identify recyclers that adhere to the highest standard of environmental responsibility and worker protection. e-Stewards Certification is open to electronics recyclers, refurbishers and processors in all developed countries.”
One way in which Spectrum Ecycle stands out is through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) partnerships. Working with Operation Food Search in St. Louis, Spectrum Ecycle leverages their connections to the business world by offering clients the opportunity to donate proceeds from the sale of their recycled electronics to Operation Food Search, thereby helping to feed underprivileged families. Spectrum partners with non-profits and municipalities to run collection drives where individuals can drop off their obsolete electronics. Half of the materials recycled by Spectrum come from commercial sites, while the other half derives from residential customers.
Although Spectrum only opened their doors two months ago, they are working toward achieving R2 certification, which like LEED for buildings, is recognizable, but expensive. In addition to being viewed as a viable, responsible company, Spectrum aims to educate clients as to the importance and value of recycling electronic waste. Since March 1st, they have collected and recycled an estimated 20 tons of electronic waste. However, according to Candelario, less than 25% of electronics are currently recycled, with much of the toxic material ending up in the landfill here and abroad.