E-Stewards Launches with Major Corporate, NGO Backing

E-Stewards Launches with Major Corporate, NGO Backing

E-Stewards, the responsible electronics recycling certification years in the making has launched today with support from leading global corporations and environmental groups, all aiming to make a dent in the world's massive e-waste problem.

The certification, which was developed by the Basel Action Network in conjunction with industry, government and nonprofit stakeholders, is based on a pledge by electronics users and recyclers 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

In addition, the certification requires recyclers to protect customer data throughout the recycling process, and protect the health and safety of workers in electronics recycling facilities.

"We are at a tiping point in solving this global problem," Jim Puckett, the Executive Director of BAN, told the media during a press conference this morning. "At last, a solution to the e-waste crisis is at hand."

The e-Stewards certification launches today with significant customer and infrastructural support. There are currently 50 e-Stewards recyclers, which have been audited by BAN as a first step to full certification. Three recycling companies have already achieved full Certified e-Stewards status: Newport Computer Services, WeRecycle!, and Redemtech.

"The government has not been helpful in this effort," Redemtech's president, Robert Houghton, said during the press conference announcing the launch. "EPA has been asleep at the switch in terms of enforcement of what meager regulations are in place. So it's been up to the environmental community to put pressure on the industry."

Redemtech's CEO, Robert Houghton, has been one of the industry leaders working to shape the certification. he has written about responsible recycling on GreenBiz.com several times in the past -- see "Responsible Electronics Recycling: Turning Policy into Practice" and "What Is -- and What Isn't -- Responsible Electronics Recycling" for examples.

There are an additional 12 recyclers that have contracted with certification groups to begin the process to become e-Stewards Certified Recyclers, including Creative Recycling Solutions, Universal Recycling Technologies, and CloudBlue. (GreenBiz Managing Editor Matthew Wheeland profiled CloudBlue last month on GreenerComputing.)

"As a Basel Action Network partner for the past three years, CloudBlue applauds BAN's leadership in creating the most robust e-waste certification available," Ken Beyer, the CEO of CloudBlue, said in a statement. "Their efforts have helped generate broad awareness around the global issue e-waste disposal."

On top of the infrastructure to process the mountains of discarded electronics domestically, there are a number of large corporations who have already signed on as e-Stewards Enterprises -- companies that have committed to giving preferential treatment to e-Stewards Recyclers for contracting recycling services.

Among the firms taking part in today's announcement are Wells Fargo, Samsung, Bank of America, Capital One and Premier.

"The e-Stewards Enterprise program makes it easy for us to demonstrate that our electronic waste management standards are responsible and align with best practices," Mary Wenzel, director of Environmental Affairs at Wells Fargo, said in a statement. "By using e-Stewards Recyclers, we know that our old computers and other electronics aren't going to be disposed of in a way that harms people or the environment and that, when possible, electronic components are recycled and reused."

Among the environmental groups that have given the stamp of approval to the e-Stewards program are Greenpeace USA, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

"in the marketplace, the only certs that work are the ones that are endorsed by environmetal groups and the industry," NRDC Senior Scientist Allen Hershkowitz said during this morning's press call, citing the Forest Stewardship Council and Fair Trade certifications as other successful examples. Hershkowitz added, "Companies are engendering liabilities by not knowing where their electronics are going."

The scope of the e-waste problem is one that has been well covered, especially in recent years. And while the electronics recycling industry and the U.S. EPA had been working with environmental groups to develop its Responsible Recycling (R2) guidelines, those NGOs and many of the recyclers that have now embraced e-Stewards backed out of that partnership in protest of what they called a failure to make meaningful commitments to truly responsible recycling by not explicitly ruling out exports of e-waste, incinerating electronics, and the use of captive or prison labor to recycle electronics.

The R2 certification launched without those groups' support, and late last year the trade group the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries announced it was ready to begin certifying R2-compliant recyclers.

The two standards will be facing off in the coming months over defining and bringing companies on board with their respective definitions of "responsible recycling."

More information about the R2 standard is online at EPA.gov. For more details on the new e-Stewards certification, visit e-Stewards.org.