Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.
Responsible Recycling (R2) and e-Stewards are the two major programs that certify electronic recyclers as responsible according to their own standards. Redemtech, a recycler, reporter of e-waste news, and prominent contributor to e-Stewards (developed by a company called BAN,) has recently released a report comparing these two programs. The report is called E-Waste Recycling Standards: A Side-by-Side Comparison of e-Stewards and R2. Just as the subtitle suggests, the Redemtech report shows a point-by-point comparison of e-Stewards and R2. Out of the 18 categories Redemtech has e-Stewards looking favorable in each and every one. So according to their report, R2 in no way compares to e-Stewards.
Is R2 really that bad? R2 was facilitated by the U.S. EPA and developed by ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc, which represents the Recycling industry so was the recycler’s view overly considered? I took a look at what Redemtech had to say.
I have found that, for the most part, the comparison seems factual but the language is written in a way that makes e-Stewards appear significantly superior to R2 even if that is not the case. The report forgoes any reporting that would make R2 appear good or e-Stewards look bad. For instance, the category, “Ensures institutional and financial support of the standard,” says that e-Stewards has BAN as the holding body and it even says that there is an annual fee that goes to supporting BAN which is correct but it fails to mention that this annual fee can be up to $125,000. There is also no mention of the initiation fee of up to $25,000. Because of these fees, I am concerned that e-Stewards might not reflect the most responsible companies but rather the responsible ones that are willing to pay a huge amount. BAN only employs about 4 people so there does not seem to be a need for such a giant fee especially since the annual fee goes towards earning “the right to use the e-Steward logo,” –Jim Puckett, one of the founders of BAN.
I have other concerns about Redemtech’s reporting. Under the, “Provides training and guidance provided to auditor,” category, e-Stewards has a, “Yes,” while R2 has a, “Very limited guidance.” Their reasoning for writing this was because there are two different types of training to the auditors under the R2 program. Why do two types of training justify, “Very limited guidance?”
The report also puts an emphasis on R2’s allowance for prison labor because BAN has prohibited this practice for all e-Stewards certified companies. So, what’s the story behind this? R2 does not prohibit the use of UNICOR, a company that employs prisoners and is used by the government. This is not mentioned in the Redemtech report but UNICOR has its positives; it teaches e-waste recycling to offenders and helps them learn valuable skills that might assist them in rejoining the workforce as soon as they are released. According to UNICOR, these programs and have also caused a reduction of recidivism and lowered the costs of Federal prison systems. UNICOR has also improved prison safety and if UNICOR programs are used by a R2 certified company they have to follow R2’s own worker safety guidelines.
There are a couple other instances in the report where Redemtech fails to provide necessary details and e-Stewards ends up looking better than it would have if all the information were given. The report says e-Stewards make “rare exceptions” when keeping toxics out of landfills and incinerators but does not elaborate on this. Other aspects imply that e-Stewards is more widely accepted than it is. There is a category called “Provides global certification” but according to my research BAN does not have any certified company located outside of North America, only in the US and a couple in Canada.
Therefore, my overall opinion is that Redemtech does not tell the whole story. Obviously the connection between Redemtech and BAN has caused extremely biased reporting. Some of the general information Redemtech gives on their website is also questionable. For instance, they say, “FACT: 80% of e-waste collected for ‘responsible recycling’ in the U.S. is exported.” They repeat this percentage in a number of places and at one point said they got this number from BAN. The real “FACT” is that no one can give you an exact percentage of how much e-waste is exported, there can be estimations but estimations have an extremely large margin for error. This untruthful reporting gives consumers the wrong idea about where the problems lie and where our efforts will be best spent.
It may sound idealistic, especially compared to the overt bashing we just witnessed by Redemtech, but why are consumers asked to choose? Isn’t the point of this to just start letting recyclers be accountable for what they do? In my opinion, both certification programs do this well. The main point of opposition between these two programs is export. E-Stewards is adamant about stopping all export including the export of new computers and R2 recognizes that people in developing countries could use computers and therefore allows for export as long as the importing countries is OK with it.
The statements of this blog may not reflect the views of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.