Sarah Womer, founder of Zero to Go, trash blogs on the challenges of e-waste recycling that face Hudson Valley residents.
I believe in responsible electronics recycling. If I bring an electronic item for recycling somewhere, I expect that it won’t be exported to developing nations to be dismantled in unsafe conditions. The following is also true: it won’t be sent to an incinerator or landfill, and any data I wasn’t able to remove will not be jeopardized. All of these requirements are met when the recycler handling the e-waste has an e-Steward certification. Unfortunately, these e-Steward certified recyclers have little to no representation in the Hudson Valley of New York.The local representation they do have is with Best Buy, and or Staples– both companies are e-Steward Enterprises having committed to using e-Steward recyclers for their downstream processing. The other big box stores that have electronics collection programs use recyclers with only R2 standard in place. In addition, the 16 electronics recycling events happening in the tricounty region this year will not be using e-Stewards.
As someone who’s organized multiple e-waste drives in my community with e-Steward recyclers, I have firsthand experience talking to the public about these issues. Explaining the benefits of bringing unwanted e-waste to responsible, transparent and accountable recyclers feels right. If I didn’t have this kind of confidence in the recycler, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that I’d lied to the 400+ people in my community who participated in the event. But that was last year and the year before.
This year, we don’t have the ability to work with an e-Steward recycler and I simply point everyone to Best Buy or Staples.
The reason? Because these community e-waste drives generate thousands of tons of computer monitors and televisions, about 80% of everything collected. TV and monitor recycling is a costly and difficult matter (see the recent NYTimes article for more) and recyclers are losing money by taking them in. Most e-Stewards in the area have simply stopped doing events, and focused squarely on handling recycling with businesses. That leaves the recyclers with R2 certifications handling everything, and they can’t trace where it all ends up. The three counties that put most of these events together don’t care enough to choose the better recyclers, and for me, it’s like yelling into the wind. I don’t know what it’s going to take to have more e-Stewards doing quality work here, but I do believe we deserve better.
Sarah is a member of the League of Women Voters and the Reuse Alliance, and is a former board member of the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange (now the New Paltz Reuse Center). She’s a 2012 winner of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 40 Under 40 Awards.
She lives in Beacon, NY.