What You May Not Know About Electronic Recycling

In 2013, the Shiawassee Conservation District launched a highly success electronic recycling program in partnership with Comprenew. Recently, the District sat down with Scott Vanerkooy at Comprenew to discuss electronic recycling and see what happens to the items that are dropped off during our collections.

Tell us about Comprenew. How long have you been around? What do you do there?

Comprenew is a nonprofit electronic refurbisher and recycler, committed to giving retired electronic devices new life, whenever possible. We maintain the highest international standards in electronics recycling and data security, ensuring your confidential data is never compromised.Comprenew was founded in 1986 as a for-profit refurbisher of mainframe computer equipment serving leasing companies, becoming the foremost refurbisher and repairer of IBM 5080 CADCAM equipment in the 1990s. In 2004, due to its shifting focus from for-profit to social enterprise, Comprenew became a nonprofit organization and expanded its activities to include programs through which we serve at-risk and marginalized populations. Through our Service Learning program, we offer volunteer opportunities for schools, churches, businesses, and other organizations.

Our motivation in becoming a nonprofit recycling company was that we recognized that electronics could cause great harm to the environment. This was because manufacturers were making items without the end of life in mind leading to an abundance of abandoned electronics entering landfills and dump sites overseas.

Why should we recycle electronics?

Electronic waste, or e-waste is a growing concern that is exacerbated by our fast-paced consumer cycle and product innovation. Cadmium, Mercury, Lead, Americium, Arsenic, Beryllium Oxide, and Flame Retardants are just a few hazardous materials commonly found in e-waste. It is essential that these harmful elements are kept out of landfills where they contaminate ground water and release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

We actually promote reuse before recycling. Reuse extends the lifecycle of electronics and their value, and is a more environmentally sound approach. It reduces waste and manufacturing costs, requires less energy and provides job opportunities.

What does it mean to be certified by Responsible Recycling (R2) and e-Steward Standards?

Comprenew is the only nonprofit electronic recycler in the world, and the only recycler in Michigan, certified by both R2-Responsible Recycling© and e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment®. Both standards guard against electronics going to the landfill or exported to another country. 100% of our recycling occurs in the United States. Data security is also a component of these certifications. These standards ensure that all data is completely sanitized and removed before items are recycled or refurbished. The final aspect of these certifications is that we ensure the health and safety of our workers from collection sites all the way downstream of recycling.

Certified electronics recyclers must demonstrate through audits and other means that they continually meet specific high environmental standards and safely manage used electronics. Once certified, continual oversight by the independent accredited certifying body holds the recycler to the particular standard.

Where does the recycling take place?

Our main facility is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We break down as much as possible at the facility itself. Nothing that we take in leaves this country, which is ensured through the R2-Responsible Recycling© and e-Stewards® Standards certifications.

We have 23 permanent collection sites in Michigan and numerous single event collections across the state throughout the year. For these single collections, sorting begins during the event. As items are taken in, staff separates them and begins to assess what will be recycled and the process by which it will be broken down. This is crucial to keeping costs of recycling residential electronics as low as possible.

What are the costs to recycle electronics?

At Comprenew, we have a two-source approach to recycling: corporate and residential. We strive for a 50/50 split between these two sources. We do this because recycling electronics is very expensive and residential items are typically cost negative materials. This means that it costs more to recycle an item than could ever be recovered. For example, a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TV contains between 4 and 8 pounds of lead. It is very expensive to extract and recycle this dangerous metal. Other examples of cost negative materials taken in during a residential collection are printers, hair-dryers, and vacuum cleaners. These items contain lots of plastics and offer little value in recycling. Another high cost of residential collections comes from moving the items. The costs to package and truck materials is something that continues to grow.

Once the trucks are back at our main facility in Grand Rapids, staff removes and begins to break down items. It is important that items are carefully sorted during the collection, because it speeds up the process of recycling right from the truck and allows us to keep costs lower for residential collections.

We offset some of the costs of residential collections by servicing corporate operations. Items typically taken in from corporations are laptops, computer towers, and network items. These items are easier to break down. Furthermore, after the items are completely free of data through our sanitation process we are able to offer them as refurbished items. In this way we are extending the life of electronics and reducing the stream of items that need to be recycled through promoting reuse.

The District holds collections at a secure/gated location. Why is it important to have a secure site for a collection?

Security during a recycling collection event is crucial. Unsupervised sites are susceptible to theft and breaches of data. Having a secure location during a collection also protects the community from injury and escape of potentially harmful materials into the environment. Comprenew appreciates the location that the Conservation District uses. It allows for collection of items beyond what can be loaded into the trucks brought on collection day. Having a secure location is also a benefit to the public, as more items can be taken during a single day event. This site, in particular, is nice because it has a hazardous waste facility and is a locked and gated location.

The District’s next Electronic Recycling event will be held on Saturday, October 20, from 9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. at the Chippewa Trail location just north of the VG’s Grocery on M-52 in Owosso.