What is the SMM Electronics Challenge?

By Veena Clay March 17, 2015

Introduced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2012, the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Challenge was designed to address electronics recycling from a manufacturer’s standpoint. The program focuses on the manufacture and design of electronics, bringing awareness about how these processes could increase the toxic effect that improperly discarded electronics can have on the environment.

The program has its roots in specific observations in the 2011 National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, an initiative taken on by key electronic manufacturers, such as Dell, Sony and Sprint, to manage electronic waste (e-waste) streams. By adopting the strategy, manufacturers pledged to increase electronics recycling by teaming up with certified third-party recyclers.

The SMM Challenge’s original purposes were similar to the 2011 corporate strategy: It aimed to encourage retailers and manufacturers to work with third-party recyclers to increase e-waste collection and recycling across the nation. The program also established a rewards and certification system to provide positive incentives for participants.

While the SMM Challenge has stuck with by this mission, it has expanded its scoped and now is also appealing to consumers and retailers.

SMM Electronics Challenge Tiers of Participation

The SMM Challenge is organized into tiers of participation, which allow manufacturers and retailers to join in at their own level of capacity and readiness. Bronze, Silver and Gold tiers outline requirements that must be met before moving up to the next level.

The Bronze level is for manufacturers and retailers that recycle or reuse less than 50 percent of their electronic devices and are at a “nascent” stage in their recycling efforts. The Silver level is for intermediate level manufacturers and retailers who recycle or reuse 50-95 percent of their electronics. Finally, the Gold level is for those who recycle or reuse 96 to 100 percent of electronics.

Public recognition and awards provide incentive for participants to increase their recycling efforts and move up the tiers of participation to reach the top echelon. Furthermore, third-party electronic recyclers partne with manufacturers in each tier in order to help manufacturers exceed state requirements and meet EPA criteria.

Sending an Important Message

Through the program, the EPA aims to send a message to electronics manufacturers to rethink the way they build devices. Manufacturers play a unique role in the successful and sustainable management of end-of life electronics. However, not only are manufacturers invited to participate, but retailers are also major stakeholders in the SMM Challenge. In concert, these two groups can work together to achieve sending 100 percent of electronics collected to certified third-party recyclers.

This latter actor is perhaps one of the most important in the SMM Challenge. Third-party recyclers that accept the used devices that manufacturers and retailers collect as part of the challenge take responsibility for electronics’ secure and responsible end-of-life. As such, each recycler must be certified and accredited with an independent recycling auditor in order to participate.

Such partnerships are essential to the SMM Challenge. In fact, the SMM Challenge has prompted the creation of new jobs as well as supported the growth of an already thriving recycling and refurbishment industry in America. Additionally, supporters hope the SMM Challenge can assist in limiting the amount of e-waste illegally shipped to underdeveloped countries, where unsafe recycling practices threaten natural resources, regional environments, data security and community health.

What the SMM Challenge Means to You

So, what does the SMM Challenge mean to the average consumer? The answer may be a whole lot. It takes a governmental giant to convince large entities that recycling electronics is a task worth seeing through to the end. Promoting the value of the process beyond the manufacturer and retailer level is critical and essential to the program, in addition to being one of its primary goals.

The EPA recognizes that both corporations and consumers must understand the need to invest more money, time and resources into electronics recycling. Implementing the program annually will provide average consumers with better access to responsible methods for e-waste disposal and ensure they are equipped with relevant, up-to-date information concerning the mounting e-waste crisis and how to protect their own data.