EWASTE: 6 Simple Rules for Recycling my E-Waste

You have 3 minutes to approve an e-waste vendor.  You are busy and don't have time to check out whether they are dumping in China.  The EPA's Responsible Recyclers standards look very promising, but there are not many companies which have gone through that yet, maybe there are none in your region.

  1. Ask the EWaste processor for their total tonnage from last year (the denominator).
  2. Ask where the CRT glass went, and how many tons went there.  Pound for pound, CRT glass is the most expensive and most regulated material in e-waste, illegal to dispose of with solid waste.   And it's a bottleneck, there are not many places taking it.  Be sure to check the destination.  Now divide #3 (CRT Glass) by #2 (total tons).  This provides the CRT Glass Test.
  3. Ask how many employees they have.  Divide  #4 (employees) by #2 (total tons)
  4. Ask where the printed circuit boards went, and how many tons went there.  If they have printed circuit boards as a separate weight (vs. left intact in PCs), they are probably able to manage the hard drive info because it makes no sense to spend the labor to tear down to circuit boards and then not deal with the hard drives.  Divide #5 (circuit boards) by #1 (total tons).
  5. Ask how many sea containers left the processing location last year.
  6. Ask if they are "EPA Approved".  If they are honest, they will say "there is no such thing as EPA approved or EPA Certified".  If they say yes, then all the info above is suspect...
 The information above is all independently verifiable, with the possible exception of total tons, which most companies tend to want to brag about and exaggerate (which is good for this analysis, the way to skew the calculations would be to under-report the total tons).

Depending on whether the company manages residential material (TVs mean more CRT glass as a percentage, as monitors are decreasing in number and increasing in quality), the CRT test (#2/#1) should be at least 10% and possibly as high as 45%.  The places you can send CRT glass to tend not to lie and say they got CRTs from people that are not delivering them CRTs.  The same with printed circuit boards, #4.  PC boards are a much smaller percentage, if the percentage is huge they may be giving you intact desktops as a figure.   The important thing here is that they can account for it and they are doing demanufacturing rather than sending old Pentium 2s into the export market for gold scrap content (an extremely polluting process).

The employees per ton, and sea containers per ton, are actually both independently verifiable.  Your state Environental Protection office hopefully keeps records on each of these.  Some sea containers is fine, demanufactured plastic and steel etc. is generally exported to the places that make things out of plastic and steel.   But processing reduces the amount of space, and if the sea containers are too high as a ratio to total tons, it's a sign that there is not much going on besides throwing stuff willy-nilly into sea containers.

Both the sea containers and the employees are verifiable from public sources (Department of Revenue and Department of Commerce), hopefully your state official knows how to get those records.

There are other things you can do to investigate the end market, and you should do those other things if you are making a long term contract.  But if you have to move stuff out of storage or do an upgrade and don't have much time, this list is good evidence that you are doing due diligence.

State officials have another list (see previous post) they can be checking for compliance.   If you are bamboozled, it's not for lack of trying, and if more and more people ask these 6 simple questions, our e-waste recycling community will be able to police itself.  I can tell you if my competitor is lying about any of the 1-6 claims.   Since they know you can show the information to someone else, they might be hesitant to fake it.

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