Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), Boulder, Colorado, announced the appointment of Corey Dehmey as its executive director June 18. With more than 20 years in the electronics sector, Dehmey will be tasked with advancing the goals of the electronics recycling industry and promoting the adoption of the Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) Standard, which provides a common set of processes, safety measures and documentation requirements for businesses that repair and recycle used electronics.
Dehmey talked with Waste Today about his new role, the challenges facing the industry and the need for more comprehensive oversight of electronics recycling in the digital age.
Waste Today (WT): How has the electronics recycling landscape changed in your time in the industry?
Corey Dehmey (CD): When I started in information technology asset disposition (ITAD), it was the Wild West, where quick deals and fast money were the norm. Working equipment was combined with low-value stuff and auctioned in buyer-take-all loads to the highest bidder. Owners of IT equipment have since become more aware of the risks and liabilities they have as generators of used electronic equipment, and they’re smarter about who they choose as a partner.
Data security and the proper management of hazardous materials have replaced price as the primary driver when choosing an ITAD or recycling partner. Suppliers of used IT assets are now qualifying their buyers to ensure that they properly test, wipe data and recycle materials. More and more, R2 Certification has become a prerequisite for companies that want to buy valuable used IT equipment.
WT: As you take over as SERI’s executive director, what are some of the organization’s biggest concerns when it comes to electronics recycling?
CD: While data security has become a primary driver in reuse and recycling, many companies are not tech savvy enough to properly identify devices with data. It is getting even more difficult with technology being integrated into the internet of things (IOT).
Quality is another concern. The quality of testing and repair, as well as the quality of materials recovered in recycling, need to improve as we move toward a more circular economy. A focus on quality is paramount to the long-term success of refurbishers and recyclers.
WT: As technology usage, including with smartphones and tablets, continues to become more prevalent, how do you do a better job of educating consumers on proper electronics recycling?
CD: In my experience, consumers want to do the right thing. The challenge is making good recycling available and convenient to consumers. It is sometimes difficult to find local recycling options. SERI is working on a new website where we hope to provide consumers the ability to use their current location to find R2-certified recyclers nearby.
WT: Safety is always a big concern, but it is especially critical when recycling electronics. How can waste and recycling facilities do a better job of managing risk with electronic waste contamination, specifically when it comes to lithium-ion batteries and the fire risks they pose?
CD: We have to change our mindset and our processes. The expectation should be that batteries are likely present in every device, so recyclers should be inspecting all devices for batteries at the beginning of the process.
WT: What are the goals and importance of the R2 Standard?
CD: The R2 Standard has significantly changed how much of the world recycles [since it was released in 2008] by educating refurbishers, recyclers and users of recycling services about the best practices for managing used electronics. While we have seen great improvements in environmental protection, resource preservation, worker health and safety and data security as more facilities have become R2 certified—there are now more than 800 R2-certified facilities operating in 30 countries—SERI is still working to expand access to safe and sustainable repair and recycling facilities in underserved regions of the world. Education and partnerships will help us to continue to raise the bar worldwide to achieve a more sustainable circular economy.
WT: What objectives are at the top of your list to tackle moving forward?
CD: We want to finish revising the R2 Standard, continue to refine the R2 certification program to adapt to ever-changing industry challenges and build SERI programs that can bring together leaders and resources with projects to build capacity, preserve natural resources and protect the environment, workers and communities from the harmful effects of irresponsible practices.