By Veena Clay October 23, 2014

Have you ever wondered how recycling centers keep track of how well they are doing? How is the quality of recycling services monitored across the globe? To what standards are electronic recyclers held, and in light of which criteria? These questions are answered when a recycling center obtains certification from an independent auditor — an entity capable of objectively determining the quality of recycling efforts.

The e-Stewards program is an international accreditation and certification program focusing on recycling electronic devices. The program is dedicated to preventing the exporting of devices marked for recycling to developing countries. The program is part of an initiative organized by the Seattle-based Basel Action Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit aimed at highlighting illegal hazardous waste streams around the globe. The program is named after the Basel Convention, which took place at the United Nations in 1997.

History of e-Stewards certification

When BAN began to address certification issues, the climate in the American electronic recycling industry was all but settled. Already, BAN had created a pledge program that required participants to voluntarily choose only globally responsible recycling methods. The BAN Pledge program, lasting from 2003-2006, involved more than 40 recyclers around the nation, but eventually it needed expansion. BAN sought to hone the program to fit U.S. EPA R2 standards beginning in 2006.

The R2, or Responsible Recycling, development process involved a number of stakeholders across a variety of industries, each bringing their own interests to the table. The result was an R2 draft that BAN found it hard to ratify. According to BAN, the draft was in direct violation of important environmental safety laws, and thus did not warrant its participation.

But BAN was not about to abandon its efforts completely. Instead, at the behest of concerned recyclers, the nonprofit organized and solicited the help of an independent auditor for the development of a new, international certification program. That development became the e-Stewards certification program we know today.

Currently, 81 recyclers participate in the e-Stewards certification program. These range from end-of-life asset managers to recycling centers. The certification brings together a number of qualified certification bodies trained to perform independent audits of recyclers already participating. Additionally, each auditor conducts annual reviews and maintains ongoing surveillance to ensure the continued compliance of participating recyclers.

e-Stewards parameters

The basic parameters of the e-Stewards certification incorporate standards noted in a number of prominent environmental measures from the International Organization for Standardization. In particular, the certification program is based on ISO 14001, the Environmental Management Systems Standard. Beyond this, the certification involves a number of requirements related to safely disposing electronics and keeping e-waste out of developing countries.

The certification process usually begins with an application and an initial review. Next comes an audit and subsequent disclosure of any nonconformances. The applying entity may be given a number of days to correct nonconformance issues before a final audit is conducted and the certification committee reviews the results. After certification, several surveillance audits may be completed on a routine basis throughout the three-year certification, and when it concludes a recertification audit will be necessary for renewal.

Benefits of certification

Certification can lend credibility to any recycling organization. This helps when clients and customers are choosing which recycler is best. One of the biggest benefits of e-Steward certification is its international compliance standards. It means that participating organizations are helping to globalize standards, not just those relevant to the U.S.

Another major benefit to e-Stewards certification is its emphasis on preventing hazardous trade to developing nations. Africa has seen a massive amount of waste build up over the past few decades as many of the word’s thriving nations began transporting e-waste into some of the continent’s poorest regions. Unsafe recycling and disposal methods wreaked havoc on these nations’ habitats and have and caused difficulties for human inhabitants as well.

The e-Stewards certification makes it a chief requirement for participants to refrain from the trade of electronic waste from developed nations to poorer regions around the globe. This requirement is in line with BAN’s efforts to raise awareness about the atrocities that result when nations poorly equipped to handle large streams of e-waste are used as dumping grounds for those countries with a seemingly endless supply of electronics and other types of waste.

e-Stewards certification also emphasizes keeping electronic waste out of landfills and requires that all participants remain committed to the safe disposal of electronics. Customers who know and recognize the e-Stewards certification can be assured that the certified recycler practices safe methods of disposal that do not involve landfills.

Governance and regulations of the e-Stewards certification program

As with any regulatory program, it is always good to know who leads the charge and who helps influence the rules and decisions the agency makes. In the case of the e-Stewards certification program, a leadership council consisting of a number of recyclers, customers, government representatives and nonprofits helps to direct the program. The council provides input and assists with implementing and promoting the e-Stewards program around the world.

Why the e-Stewards Certification Program Matters

The e-Stewards certification is an alternative to yet another voluntary certification program for electronic recyclers, the R2 program. It is the same program that BAN originally became a part of, but later departed from due to a disagreement over initial drafting. The R2 program has attracted many top corporations, such as Microsoft and DIRECTV.

The two certification standards offer recyclers and customers a choice when determining the certification that is best. They also help to encourage responsible electronic recycling both here at home in the U.S. as well as around the world. This assistance is crucial in light of the growing e-waste crisis facing nearly every nation around the world.

e-Stewards and e-cycling

Certification is an important aspect to consider when choosing the recycling center that is best for you or your company. It is good to know the details and specifics on the certification available and how it affects the quality of service you can expect when sending your electronics for recycling.