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Who Will Solve the e-Waste Collection Challenge?

Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the US and the e-waste handlers can’t keep up.  So who do they turn to for help?  Paper recyclers.  (Cue the super hero soundtrack).At this week’s Paper Recycling Conference in Chicago, speakers from three of the leading electronic scrap companies offered advice to paper recyclers on how they might partner to address collection challenges.  The rationale is pretty simple: Because many businesses already have developed relationships with document management companies to protect confidential data in print, these businesses will trust their paper hauler with data on computers.  And businesses love to streamline to single vendors when they can.

Of course no new venture is without risk.  While some electronic components are gold mines (literally) others come with hazardous waste disposal issues – elements like lead, mercury and beryllium must be handled with caution. If you think the paper industry is challenged explaining the benefits of SFI and FSC protecting our forests, E-waste handlers have to explain the differences between e-Stewards and R2/RIOS and how these certification systems protect both data and the environment.

And of course, there are regulatory issues that are all over the map.  There are reportedly 26 states with different laws governing this space. The NCER is a great resource to help track current e-waste legislation.

So if you are a waste paper hauler and looking for another income stream – it sounds like a good opportunity to me.  And if you are a business looking to deal with your e-waste, ask you document destruction company if they are interested. But make sure everyone has done their homework and is working with the right scrap handler at the other end.  Confidential data and potentially hazardous elements must be handled with care.

Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.  Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability.  Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development.

Reposted from the eQ Blog with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America. For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite.

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One thought on “Who Will Solve the e-Waste Collection Challenge?

  1. Laura – I see you have some New Hampshire ties so I thought you and the readers might be interested in this bit of e-waste history. The former Digital Equipment Company (DEC) had the first e-waste recycling facility in New Hampshire – which was likely also the first in New England.

    In the early 1980s DEC set up the Americas Material Recovery Operation (AMRO) off of I-89 in Contoocook and employed about 200 workers in this entity that was responsible for managing the reutilization and disposition of customer-returned products, repairable returns, and excess and obsolete production, and facility equipment, including furniture, for all DEC’s U.S. operations.

    AMRO came to be seen not as just another internal cost center (albeit with a pioneering approach to handling and disposing of products), in the 1990s it became a for-profit business venture that began to attract and serve commercial and industrial customers. DEC’s Contoocook facility was also the very first New Hampshire organization to seek and achieve registration to the international environmental management standard ISO 14001. Today, many brands such as IBM and BAE Systems have followed suite and have achieved this registration status of course. But DEC Contoocook was a trail blazer.

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