10 million pounds of consumer electronics waste finds new life
By Robert Grattan
Consumer electronics waste — everything from outdated cell phones to broken printers — is growing two to three times faster than other waste, creating a revenue-generating line of business for a Hialeah electronics recycling company.
The disposal of old electronics has doubled over the past decade to 3.19 million tons in 2009. Despite this growth, US Environmental Protection Agency — or EPA — estimates show electronics are recycled about half as often as other wastes.
In South Florida, E-Scrap is looking to change these habits by offering a high-quality electronics recycling service more targeted to solving the problems of local businesses, said George Fery, founder and chief executive officer.
"If it is electronics, we will take it," he said. "My approach to the market is notů to go cherry-picking."
Mr. Fery has used this approach to grow his business along with the country's electronics waste, 10 years after starting with just one truck. Today, E-Scrap has more than 21 employees, including on-site collection crews.
Last year, the company recycled over 10 million pounds of electronics, bringing in more than $2 million in revenue. Almost all of it came from selling refurbished products or raw materials.
"Ninety-nine percent of our compensation comes from downstream, either through reuse or selling the material," Mr. Fery explained.
Older computers are tested and upgraded, then shipped to Caribbean and South American markets.
"We are proud of providing a very consistent and good product," he said.
Items that aren't reusable are broken down into raw material and sold on commodity markets.
"Emerging large markets require a lot of metal," Mr. Fery said. "The big thing is to extract metals."
But even buoyed commodity prices are not enough to offset the cost of recycling some items.
One such item, cathode ray tube glass — or CRT glass — is used in older monitors.
"CRT glass is red ink. It costs us money," Mr. Fery said, adding that sometimes dealing with materials correctly costs more.
Not all recycling businesses will process materials like CRT glass, he said, but new EPA policies are beginning to reward businesses that do so correctly.
This glass must be shipped to a smelter to remove lead content before it can be safely recycled, explained Kim Clifton, EPA's regional leader for the eCycling team.
"One of the things we're going to be doing is pushing certificationů," Ms. Clifton said.
Better certification is geared to help customers determine if their recycler pursues thoroughly environmentally sound practices, she explained, instead of doing the minimum to reclaim resources.
"If these standards are used, they will lead to better business practices," she said.
Mr. Fery said he is pursuing Responsible Recycling, or R2, a new national certification standard.
Florida only has three certified R2 recyclers, individuals who completed the EPA-recommended R2 recycling certification program, and none is based in Miami-Dade, according to R2's website.
R2's requirements are so rigorous that Mr. Ferry has had trouble meeting them in Florida, which does not have legislation to manage end-of-life electronics.
For example, because Florida currently doesn't offer a state recycling certification, Mr. Fery has to send the company's ink cartridges as far as Pennsylvania to use businesses that are state certified.
"There's still a lot of work to do" in the US, he said, but he remains optimistic about the opportunities ahead.
"The industry is starting to get really organized."
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