The University of Washington announced today that it has become the first university nation-wide to sign a pledge to be globally responsible in its electronics recycling (e-recycling). In signing the e-Stewards Enterprise Commitment, the University is doing its part to prevent the toxic materials in electronics from causing harm to people and the environment, particularly in developing countries.
“Electronic devices are big a part of our lives,” said Emily Newcomer, UW Recycling Manager. “TVs, computers, printers, cell phones and others are all recyclable, but they have to be recycled responsibly.”
Many electronic devices contain chemicals, such as lead, chromium, and mercury compounds that are toxic to humans and the environment. The chemicals are not considered hazardous to users because they are well contained within the devices. However, these chemicals can present a significant hazard to recycling factory workers if not handled appropriately.
When we recycle our devices, electronics recycling companies break them down to prepare materials for reuse. To maximize profits, some recyclers export electronics to developing countries where labourers may work under unsafe, unregulated conditions. Without proper regulations, the process of dismantling electronics can expose workers to serious health hazards.
The e-Stewards Certification, developed by the Basel Action Network, seeks to hold e-recycling companies accountable for proper recycling through a rigorous certification process that ensures the highest standards of environmental responsibility and worker protection.
“In many places, electronics are being broken down and handled without any safety measures,” said Mike Enberg, e-Stewards Enterprise Director. “The e-Stewards Certification articulates the proper and legal way to handle the hazardous material in the recycling process.”
In its commitment, the University will use only e-Stewards certified vendors to recycle electronic equipment.
“Making this pledge is about being responsible as a leader in sustainability,” said Newcomer. “Our current electronics recycler is e-Stewards certified, and we wanted to set an on-going standard at the University. The e-Stewards agreement is a more formalized commitment in support of responsible electronics recycling.”
In fiscal year 2012, the University collected and recycled more than 90 tons of used electronic equipment.
UW Recycling: www.uwrecycling.com
e-Stewards Program: www.e-stewards.org
Basel Action Network: www.ban.org