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Home · Property Management · Going Green : The Alphabet Soup of E-Waste

Why the EPA, ERI, FBI, and GRX Want You!
by Louisa May

Alphabet soupSeventeenth century English poet and playwright William Congreve is remembered for declaring that “music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks and bend the knotted oak,” but for both subtle and soft use of our English language today, I’ve got to hand it to the EPA.

Not wishing to incite panic in the hearts, minds, and wallets of American citizens and consumers, the agency’s scribes have chosen their words carefully in writing the Environmental Protection Agency’s eCycling waste website.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a wealth of information here. The EPA site posts a lot of helpful information, including a list of businesses that recycle, re-use, or refurbish old computers, televisions, printers, and cell phones. Since e-waste is defined as a waste type consisting of any broken or unwanted electrical or unwanted device, it goes without saying that we have a lot of it.

In 2005, Americans discarded two million tons of electronics, and about 80 to 85 percent of that (think 1.5 to 1.9 million tons) waste was disposed of in landfills. About 15 to 20 percent (345,000 to 379,00 tons) of these televisions, keyboards, scanners, and phones were recycled that year. The trouble with e-waste is that some of the same elements that are needed for high performance of electronic products become toxic as trash.

If an FBI agent calls and tells you in a milk and honey voice that you are “a person of interest” in an investigation, be nervous. And if the EPA states that “the lead, mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants are ‘substances of concern’ in discarded electronics” be just as nervous. Improper disposal of e- waste threatens to change our quality of life, poison our water, harm our bodies, and destroy our environment.

While they may be jumping on the “green’ bandwagon to turn a profit, companies offering e-recycling are still doing the right thing. Smart corporations are anxious to do their part in recycling e-products. Sony, Hewlitt-Packard, Office Depot, Best Buy, and even 1-800-Flowers have launched nationwide e-recycling programs.

With an overabundance of “green” manufacturer and product information available through consumer publications and the Internet, buyers can easily choose brands based on a company’s track record of environmental awareness and social responsibility.

Sony has partnered with Waste Management, Inc, based in Houston, Texas in a nationwide “Take Back Recycling Program” which invites consumers to leave behind their unwanted electronic devices at no charge. A national ad campaign will begin this summer. And Dell has partnered with Goodwill Industries in RECONNECT, a program that recovers and reuses electronics in environmentally responsible recycling

Two industry giants, Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) and Guaranteed Recycling Experts (GRXrecycles.com) are recycling electronic waste the responsible way. They are not exporting it to impoverished third world countries but are genuine recyclers. Every device is recycled to its core. At ERI, Chief Executive John Shegerian believes everything can be recycled, even lives. His company, based in Fresno, California, initiated a “Second Chances” program, one that includes ex-cons and gives recovering addicts opportunities to succeed. Over one third of his 200 part and full -time employees are “second chance” people. Shegerian says being around these people helps him remember how fragile a “normal” life can be.

GRX processes all materials at its Denver, Colorado plant where it separates the base materials and sends them to downstream processors. These processors prepare materials for reintroduction to the manufacturing process.

GRX has earned the coveted designation of E- Steward from the BAN Stewardship Project. E- Stewards are the most responsible electronic recyclers in North America. Their practices are audited and efforts recognized by the Basel Action Network, (BAN) a US based global organization that acts as an international watchdog for the export of toxic waste.

The cost of recycling to the consumer often depends on the proper handling of recycled goods. Some of the factors that determine pricing at GRX are:

  • Distance- Pick-up or delivery?

  • Quantity- large quantities of material pay less per pound than single items

  • Type of Equipment- a monitor costs more than a keyboard- cell phones are free

  • Documentation- Do you require a certificate of recycle or serial # tracking?

  • Frequency- Do you have a need for regular service?

E-waste recycling is a much needed and increasingly sophisticated industry. Responsible e-waste recyclers offer good information that you can pass on to your tenants and give you an opportunity, however you contribute, to be a good steward of the Earth.

Check out our Green Pages for information on money saving tips that help the environment. Once there, click on the Green Forum to see more articles by our green feature writer Louisa May.

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