San Francisco Commits to e-Stewards' Responsible Recycling Program

The City and County of San Francisco is continuing its environmental leadership today, announcing that it is just the third municipality in the nation to earn an e-Stewards Enterprise certification for its commitments to responsible e-waste management.

San Francisco joins two other counties -- Washington's King County and California's Santa Clara County -- along with the city of San Jose and numerous corporations that are using 100 percent e-Stewards certified recyclers for handling all end-of-life electronics.

The e-Stewards certification, launched in April 2010 by the Basel Action Network, has three main commitments that it uses to address the problem of potentially toxic electronics. Certified e-Stewards companies are required to:

  • eliminate exports of hazardous e-wastes to developing countries;
  • halt the dumping of such wastes in municipal landfills or incinerators; and
  • cease the use of captive prison populations to manage toxic e-wastes

"The technology tools we use in our everyday lives too often end up in the environment as a major source of toxic pollution. Our city's primary focus when it comes to electronics is on reuse," Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco's Department of Environment, said in a statement. "But when we do need to recycle, we are committed to doing it responsibly."

E-waste has steadily grown in prominence in environmental circles in recent years, as regular media exposés highlight the health and environmental hazards posed by many overseas recycling practices. Large companies and industry groups have taken some steps to address the problem: Last year, the Consumer Electronics Association launched an industry-wide initiative to recycle one billion pounds of e-waste by 2016.

But there is still plenty of room for improvement, and plenty of debate about the best way to address e-waste exports. Traditional scrap recyclers have long advocated for the freedom to export electronics, largely as a way to keep costs down. The debate led to the creation of two competing standards, with e-Stewards backed by BAN and green-minded recyclers, and the Responsible Recycling (R2) standard developed by the EPA and scrap recycling industries.

In addition to the other municipalities in the program, San Francisco joins corporate leaders including Wells Fargo, Nestle, Bloomberg News, Capital One, Samsung, Bank of America, Alcoa Aluminum and LG. And San Francisco further cements its commitment to sustainability, following on its recent achievement of the nation's greenest city as well as its first place ranking for green buildings.

E-waste photo via Shutterstock.