The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2

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.

13 Replies to “The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2”

  1. Amy,

    While and their E-Stewards Pledge has the best of all intentions, they have committed the mistake of “perfect is the enemy of the good”. There are very good repair and refurbishing factories all over the world, and there are many types of repair and refurbishing that the USA has no capacity whatsoever. Even BAN, in fact, has to accept CRT glass going to non-OECD CRT furnaces, because there are none left in OECD countries (and its a good thing BAN did close one eye on that recycling practice).

    Just as Fair Trade Coffee realized that the “coffee boycott” hurt the farmers and that coffee cannot be grown domestically, R2 or Responsible Recyclers certification realizes that shredding things in the USA is by no means superior to repairing them in Indonesia, if the Indonesian factory is treated fairly, sent good material, and given environmental audits. R2 will succeed because it sees people, including people of color, for what they can do, not just for what they cannot do or did not do in the past. The usual way to harmonize these standards now is to abandon computer monitor refurbishing on the hierarchy in favor of shredding. Organizations like are exploring getting subsidized states like CA to test monitors prior to export to BAN standards. Moving an Indonesia factory to Mexico is another possibility. But I for one will not tell an Asian engineer who invented, designed, and oversaw manufacture of a CRT monitor that he can never recycle it due to his ethnicity. Doing so robs the developing country of a head start in establishing a recycling infrastructure for their own material, which is about to eclipse the generation of e-waste domestically.

    Visit the MIT campus sometime, and meet some of the future electronics recyclers we are proudly talking to.

  2. Carol,

    Thank you for your response. Glad you mentioned the Basel Convention; it is an important component to understand when talking about e-waste.

    Do not expect me to defend the US not ratifying the Basel Convention. I am familiar with the treaty and personally agree with the principles overall. The prevision that states hazardous waste should stay where it is generated as long as that place can handle the waste sufficiently is a good one and is even followed by a provision that allows for limited responsible exporting for reuse. I find this really encouraging. From my interpretation, the treaty seems entirely reasonable. I understand that there are chances for problems to occur given that the Basel Convention limits the control of underdeveloped countries if the ban amendment is ratified. I have also heard that the Basel Convention might unintentionally discourage recycling all together.

    But my main complaint is that it doesn’t go far enough. Stopping irresponsible export might mitigate the problems but there are a lot of places like Guiyu, China that need to be restored due to the irresponsible export that has already occurred, people that would need new jobs, and better implementation of reuse.

    So, just as Donald suggested, I think we should start working together to first make sure recyclers are being responsible by using one of the standards and also finding new systems for e-waste management (and this doesn’t necessarily mean fight the system, maybe we have to allow export to let the informal recyclers keep jobs, but give them incentive to ONLY disassemble, leave the smelting (or hopefully a better process in the future) up to recyclers This is also a contentious issue, but I think we can all agree that the current system is broken and something needs to be done to reform it. Manufacturers, designers, recyclers, refurbishers, and other applicable agencies should be involved in order to change the current system, make it more socially responsible and environmentally friendly.

    Also, the United States already has our own version of hazardous waste regulations. RCRA (pronounced “rick-rah”) is the “Solid Waste Disposal Act” and can be found here:

  3. Donald-

    I was quoting Jim Puckett when I mentioned that the money goes towards the use of the logo (for those of you that don’t know, Mr. Puckett is a BAN coordinator.)

    Can you expand on what you mean when you mention operating in 5 countries? Are you saying that there are certified e-Stewards recyclers in 5 different countries? I can’t find that on the e-Stewards website.

    And yes, working together is exactly what I think we should do. The e-waste issue is a huge problem so it’s going to take the work of a lot of people in order to make a change.


  4. Robert-

    So glad you responded. Great insight to some of the discrepancies mentioned earlier. For instance, when Redemtech mentioned “global certification,” I inferred that e-Stewards provided certification across the globe instead of what I think you’re saying which is that e-Stewards abides by international treaties; so a simple misunderstanding.

    The overall efforts of e-Stewards are certainly commendable. Their efforts towards safe export are unequivocally appreciated.

    So perhaps the only thing left to discuss is why does there have to be only one standard? Is that a goal you are moving towards or do I have that wrong? I understand that, in your opinion, you think e-Stewards is better but perhaps having two certification programs and letting the public choose according to their preferences is even better than that! Each company can hold each other accountable and having two standards also gives recyclers (and therefore the public) options in terms of what they are willing to pay, support (prisoner employment or none,) and eventually use.


  5. Lauren-

    Just down to the specifics now, I think we’re getting somewhere.

    Thanks for mentioning the different annual fee numbers. I’m glad we cleared that up.

    But again, I am concerned with the approach used towards the opposition to UNICOR. I don’t believe it is fair to imply or assume that prisoners are able to access files under the supervision of the UNICOR program without any evidence that this can/has happened.


  6. Hi Amy – One important piece of information you seem to be missing is that BAN is not a company. BAN (The Basel Action Network) is a not-for-profit organization whose original mission was to ensure that a piece of international law – the Basel Convention – which was ratified by 169 countries in 1989, is upheld. The Basel Convention protects developing nations by outlawing the dumping of toxic substances in these nations by nations that are stronger (more developed). In other words it prohibits rich countries from dumping their toxic waste on the poor. You may not be aware that when the discussion of e-waste began, it was the source of major Superfund sites in California – big toxic sites that the EPA tries to clean up. The e-waste was in the back yard of the silicon producers in Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is another non-profit organized to contend with e-waste. Once it became illegal to dump in the US, much of our e-waste has gone, and continues to go, to China and to Africa. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that recyclers cannot be taken at their word – that despite proclamations of “doing the right thing,” inappropriate disposal persists. Because unethical recyclers have used and continue to use fraudulent documents such as “certificates of recycling,” the recycling industry itself has earned a reputation as one not to be trusted. From my perspective the only way to clean up this act it to make sure that the recycling process is carefully and constantly monitored by trained third party auditors who can actually identify whether the right measures are being taken or not. R2 does not mandate that every site that a recycler has needs to be audited – you can get R2 certification simply certifying one site to R2 standards. Given the well-documented behaviors in these processes, that simply is not enough. – Carol Baroudi, author, Green IT For Dummies.

  7. Amy,

    There are over 50 e-recyclers in the United States paying a licensing fee. It is for far more than the use of the logo. The fee supports the entire program– from certification and policy efforts to all the admin, legal work, promotion, etc.

    These fees pay for the best e-waste certification program in the world. One that is already operating in 5 countries, and one that will be open in up to 37 in the very near future.

    We’ve seen a significant amount of false or misleading statements made by those that want to see the dumping continue in the name of fast profit. Great to see that you are not part of this shameful effort.

    The e-Stewards program is smart business. And it’s the right thing to do. That’s why the most respected recyclers and the biggest names in business support it.

    I will second my colleague Lauren’s offer– call us. Let’s work together. I can prove to you that the market is trending rapidly toward e-Stewards Certification.


    Donald Summers

  8. Thanks for your response Amy. Very quickly:

    – The $2-3000 fee is the marketing and licensing fee, as you say for “the right to use the e-Stewards Logo”. That’s only the licensing part. The fee covers extensive sales & marketing support provided exclusively for e-Stewards Recyclers. The ‘average $15,000’ fee is referring to the cost of certification.
    – Taxpayers don’t get a break when they lose their businesses and/or jobs to unfair competition from prisons.
    – Go ahead and give your hard drive to a prisoner. I don’t live that dangerously!

  9. Amy,

    Thanks for your feedback and your interest in this critical issue. Redemtech’s analysis of the e-Stewards Standard against R2 (available at was one we first conducted as a question of business strategy – “Which would be better for the enterprise customers we serve?” We agree with most of the stated objectives of both standards, but from our careful examination of the details of each, Redemtech believes only e-Stewards will deliver the outcome that our customers demand.

    As for your charge of “bias,” we proudly plead guilty. Our point of view is shaped by the numerous documented examples of recyclers pretending to be green while exporting e-waste ( We understand that, compared to responsible recycling, how much more profitable export can be. We are persuaded that a recycling standard failing to close all the loopholes will create false credibility that unscrupulous recyclers will exploit to full advantage. We have leveraged Redemtech’s reputation to support the e-Steward Standard because we believe that R2 is not a good alternative for an industry with a checkered reputation.

    However, I feel a number of your points are worthy of a response:

    COST: the cost to become an e-Steward is on a progressive scale, so small recyclers pay a small fraction of the fees that you list. For Redemtech, the e-Stewards licensing fees are comparable to the cost of attending one modest trade show.

    GUIDANCE: In addition to the Standard itself, the e-Stewards Standard utilizes a separate Guidance Document designed to be more dynamic than the Standard, allowing revisions to be made as technology changes. The best practices described by the e-Stewards Standard and Guidance Document combined run more than 100 pages compared to the 15-page R2 standard. Both standards offer training for the certifying auditors, but it is hard to imagine how the training for R2 auditors can be more thorough than the documentation itself.

    GLOBAL CERTIFICATION: The e-Stewards Standard is based on an ISO 14001 framework, and is compliant with all international laws and treaties. As written, R2 is provincial to the United States, and does not prevent violations of the Basel Convention. Redemtech certified our U.S. locations first, and are under contract with our certifying body to have all international locations certified in short order, starting in Europe.

    ACCEPTANCE: More than 60 environmental organizations have endorsed the e-Stewards Standard. A growing list of large businesses has pledged only to use e-Stewards recyclers. Redemtech is proud to stand with some of the best vendors in the industry supporting e-Stewards. Contrary to the explicit claims of some R2 recyclers, the R2 standard is not endorsed by the U.S. EPA. Quoted in Recycling Today, Thea McManus, associate director of the Resource Conservation and Sustainability division of the EPA, says the agency does not own the [R2] standard. “As a federal agency, the EPA cannot endorse any particular standard…” she said.

    Interested parties should compare the two standards for themselves. The e-Stewards Standard is available free, without the ISO licensed content, at R2 is also free, at Thanks – I look forward to continuing the discussion with you.

    Robert Houghton, President and Founder, Redemtech

  10. Thank you for your response! I sincerely appreciate hearing BAN’s opinion on the matter! We are definitely on the same page with our overall goal. And I’m excited that we can further this conversation publicly to work on addressing more specific details.

    -You mentioned a $2000-$3000 annual fee to the recyclers to be an e-Steward. Jim Puckett said $15,000 for a mid-size company in a recent New York Times article. ( Nonetheless, that number can go up to $25,000 for the largest company size. I still maintain that any of these numbers is a large amount for what Mr. Puckett says goes to “the right to use the e-Steward logo.” (

    -Prison employment is not an easy issue. Perhaps we can agree to disagree on this topic. Prison employment has not only lowered the costs of Federal prison systems giving a break to the taxpayer (Illinois alone spent $1.125 billion on prisons in fiscal year 2007. ( but it has also reduced recidivism by 24% looking over a 12 year period.

    Also, I am concerned that you are implying that turning your hard drive over to UNICOR is unsafe. There is no evidence that this is the case.

    -As for the “Global Certification” category, I am only quoting one of the categories in the Redemtech article. (

    -I see your point regarding my last statement. It is definitely reassuring that e-Stewards will allow for some RESPONISBLE export. That is great to see! My original comment on this was in regards to a statement e-Stewards had written in response to R2’s provision that equipment and components that are new and in their original packaging can be shipped. This is e-Stewards response: “New’ equipment contains toxins: Brand new equipment going for refurbishment, such as off-spec equipment, can contain bad circuit boards, batteries, mercury lamps. R2 fails to capture this toxic waste.” But again, as I said, it’s great to hear that for the most part, we agree that exporting can have its positives if it is done correctly.
    ( )

    It is very unfortunate and undesirable that some companies export electronic waste to underdeveloped countries under the false label of “refurbished computers”. By doing this, the companies are not only endangering the citizens who handle the electronic equipment, but they also undermine socially responsible organizations who genuinely refurbish computers for use in third world schools and other organizations. Therefore, the Sustainable Electronics Initiative supports local refurbishing, recycling, and smelters. I think we can both agree that consumers need to be more educated regarding their electronic purchases and disposal methods. More importantly, however, the electronics industry needs to increase its social and environmental responsibility by making products that are useful and not damaging to the environment and citizens of any country. We hope to see this area grow in the future.

  11. Yikes. You should really check your facts first. I’d welcome an opportunity to set a lot of the record straight with you.

    Some highlights:
    – There is a marketing and licensing fee to support the e-Stewards initiative which is to establish environmentally and socially responsible recycling worldwide. The number you associate with it would only be required of the world’s largest recyclers. Fees begin at $500 and most e-Stewards recyclers pay between $2000 and $3000/year.
    – Use of prison labor is unfair competition to an industry that must pay workers a fair wage and spend money on complying with health and safety laws that prisons are exempt from. Moreover, do well intentioned people turning their computers over to a recycler want prisoners ‘managing’ the data on their hard drives? It may be OK for the US Department of Defense (?!! – – believe it) but not for me!
    – BAN has no “Global Certification” category. The e-Stewards standard is, however, compliant with international law, whereas R2 is not.
    – The e-Stewards standard does NOT discourage or prevent “export of new computers” in ANY way. In fact, the standard promotes reuse of older equipment in developing countries as long as it is viable and not junk being exported for refurbishment in countries that can not properly manage the hazardous components that will require replacement during any refurbishment process.

    R2 was initiated to develop a certification program that would help responsible recyclers clearly distinguish themselves from those that rely on cheap labor in developing countries (or prisoners) to do the dirty work. When they allowed export for refurbishment, they defeated the entire purpose. This resulted in 14 companies approaching to BAN and working with them to develop the e-Stewards Standard. They felt that the only way, is the right way.

    You have my e-mail address. Let’s talk!

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